I read books, I write about books, I would probably marry a book if I could find one who liked me enough. Three words to describe me mature, irresponsible, contradictory, unreliable...oh...that's four...
I first talked about a pre-publication copy of We All Sleep in the Same Room on the Unpr!ntable podcast. Now it’s on the shelf, I’m going to rave about it some more, this time in print.
We've met the protagonist of Rome's book before: the man in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Moody sets him in the suburbs, Coetzee in South Africa, Richard Yates gave us a thirty-something version. As a source of inspiration, he's almost inexhaustible - I reviewed 'Death of the Black-Haired Girl' by Robert Stone only a few weeks ago, and there he was: getting drunk and sleeping with his students.
'We All Sleep in the Same Room' takes the mid-lifer away from the campuses and suburbs which are his usual territory and puts him in a single bedroom Union Square apartment. Tom Claughlin sleeps in the same room as his wife and three year old son Ben. He spends his professional life defending the employment rights of ordinary workers. He's the kind of guy who puts a dollar in the wicker basket of a band in the subway. He's the kind of guy who watches a 3D film without the glasses because his son doesn't want him to wear them. He's the kind of guy who keeps a bottle of Johnny Walker Black in the cupboard above the fridge.
Paul Rome has not only written a book which stands comparison to The Ice Storm, Disgrace and Revolutionary Road, he treats his main character with a generosity that makes snap moral judgments impossible. Tom is an idealist - a man with standards so high, he can't fail to fall short of them. He's trapped in an unsustainable situation (what will he and his wife do when Ben gets too old to share a room with them?) but too dedicated to this version of his life to consider any alternatives. He loves his wife, deeply loves his child, but he’s outpaced by circumstances, trapped in a situation which is going to turn the hairline fractures in his personality into gaping cracks.
A cast of well drawn supporting characters provide the backdrop for Tom’s self-destruction: Raina, his practical, too-knowing wife, Frank, Ben’s too-competent babysitter and Jessie, the wet-eyed legal assistant with a knack for saying exactly what people want to hear. But as in real life, no one is completely at fault, or completely innocent. The causes of disaster lie in the indelible traces of past events, in the mystery of bad human chemistry. The calm, unsentimental prose may make this story seem deceptively simple, but it’s one that deepens and becomes more poignant each time I read it.