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In the Rooms: A Novel Hardcover – April 12, 2011
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
About the Author
TOM SHONE is a former film critic for the Sunday Times. He has written for Talk magazine, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and the London Telegraph. He lives in New York City.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
IT WAS A COLD, clear morning, the sun low in the sky, casting long shadows that stretched the length of the sidewalk. My breath formed little clouds of vapor in front of my face that evaporated instantly. I tightened my coat, tucked in my scarf, and fell into step behind a man in a Burberry raincoat, a copy of the Wall Street Journal under his arm. Always a safe bet—a man in a Burberry raincoat, carrying a copy of the Wall Street Journal under his arm. After nine months in the city, I’d learned to steer clear of anyone with a dog on a leash, a camera around his neck, a baby in a pram, a map in his hand, or a family in tow, all highly likely to commit any one of a number of traffic violations—pulling out in front of you, dawdling, changing lanes without warning, or else just stopping dead on the street. No signal. Just stopping dead, right there in front of you, to gawp, or point, or chitchat, or just hang out, like it was his living room. Nobody stopped on the streets of New York. The only reason for you to stop was if you had reached your destination; that was the only real reason, the only valid excuse. Otherwise, you kept going. That was the genius of the grid system: There was always some direction you could be moving in—left, right, up, down, north, south, east, west. The only people who seemed to understand this properly, funnily enough, were the elderly. The elderly in New York were nothing like the elderly in London, inching along the pavement in their multiple layers of wool and nylon. The elderly in New York were wiry, feral creatures, their haunches sprung like marathon runners, their instincts for a gap in the crowd, for some fleeting point of ingress, honed by decades of pounding the streets. In my first week in the city, I had been expertly cut up by this silver-haired old dear in lime green Lycra jogging shorts and sneakers who zoomed just past the end of my nose, missing me by a whisker. I could only gaze in admiration as she disappeared into the midday crowds, elbows pumping. Get behind one of those, I figured, and it would be like tailing a fire truck or a police car as it hurtled up one of the avenues. They didn’t even look old. They looked young. Only older.
At the end of my street, a heavy refuse truck hissed and moaned, hungry for the black bags tossed into the back by the garbagemen; passersby glanced in, doubtless imagining what it would do to their frail bones, and hurried on. I came to a halt on the corner of Seventh, which was flocked with taxis, beside one of those orange cones belching steam from the subway system. I caught a faceful of cabbagy-smelling steam—what were they doing down there?—and felt my stomach roil. The exact dimensions of my hangover, long suspected but so far not precisely demarcated, revealed themselves to me. This was not going to be one of my more productive days.
I was just considering heading north to cross a little higher up, when my phone rang. Fishing it out of my pocket, I saw Caitlin’s name flash up in blue on the little LED screen. Fuck. What did she want? For a few seconds, I toyed with the idea of not taking the call, then duty, or guilt, or some mixture of the two, kicked in. I flipped open the phone and held it to my ear.
There was a pause before she spoke, and she sounded sheepish when she did. “Patrick … hi.… I’m sorry to call. I just wanted you to know that I shouldn’t have sent that e-mail. What you get up to now is your own business. I’m sorry.”
The e-mail, terse with sarcasm, had been the first thing in my in-tray that morning. “Liked your profile on Simpatico.com. Glad to see you’re feeling a little more ‘chipper’ these days—Caitlin.” I had groaned when I read it. An actual groan escaped my lips. They really ought to put a warning on those things; I thought: THE FIRST PERSON TO READ THIS WILL BE YOUR EX-GIRLFRIEND.Then see how many people called themselves “adventurous” yet “earthy,” “spontaneous” yet “considerate,” “outgoing” yet “shy” or said that they liked to “laugh a lot,” mostly at themselves. If you believed all that you read on the dating Web sites, New York was populated entirely with zany yet grounded twentysomethings engaged in citywide hunts for the best cupcake shop, while laughing at themselves, madly. It was all lies. Most people I knew were too busy working like dogs to embark on spontaneous road trips in custom-painted ice-cream trucks, or to cook blue spaghetti for their art-school friends, or any other of the madcap activities that made up the three-ring circus that was supposed to be your life. I like to live each day as if it were my last. How was that any way to live? If I was to live every day as if it were my last, I’d spend the rest of my life drunk, six cigarettes stuffed in my mouth, sobbing down the phone at relatives I hadn’t called in ages in a funk of fear and loathing. How was that a good way to spend the entirety of the rest of your life? My Wednesdays were bad enough as it was.
“It’s okay,” I said. “You had every right. It must have been a shock seeing me on that thing. It’s not what you think. I’m not using it to go on any dates. It’s just … window-shopping.”
It didn’t sound so good when she said it.
“Yes. You know. Fantasy. Pretend. You think I’m ready for someone else? Are you kidding me? Of course I’m not. I just wanted to know what it might be like to feel okay again. Reassurance that I wouldn’t feel like this forever.”
“Reassurance that you wouldn’t feel like this forever.”
“Yes,” I said, wondering why she was repeating everything I was saying. That couldn’t be good.
“I see,” she said icily. “So you’re not feeling so ‘chipper’ anymore, then?”
Ouch. Okay. That was embarrassing. Word That Best Describes Your Current State of Mind. I’d been trying to strike a note of Cockney insouciance. Cheeky-chappy kind of thing. Allow them to infer how dumb I thought the question, while also hinting at the unusual word choices you got with dating a Brit in New York. Across the street, the light changed, and my little pack of pedestrians surged forward. I racked up a decent pace in the hopes the conversation would follow suit.
“Okay, look, this isn’t fair, Caitlin. I was just trying to move on. It’s been three months now.”
“It’s been one and a half.”
“It’s been exactly six weeks.”
“I thought it was three.”
Turning onto Eleventh Street, I found myself engulfed by a swarm of schoolchildren, all holding hands, jabbering away in what sounded like three different languages. I took immediate evasive action, but it was too late, and I found myself slowing to a virtual standstill. Nobody had told me there would be children in New York. I decided the time had come for an experimental note of anger to see where it got me.
“Okay, look, this is ridiculous. You’re sounding like it wasn’t you who ended the whole thing. You threw me out.”
“I don’t want to go over that whole thing again. That is not true. I didn’t throw you out.”
“You more or less did.”
“Can you even tell the truth, Patrick? What happens when you try? Does it hurt your mouth? You’re incredible, absolutely incredible. Do you want to know what the worst thing was? It was the fact that you put yoga under ‘hobbies and interests.’ After all the times I asked you to go. I mean, if the question had been ‘Things my last girlfriend asked me to do but I always refused,’ that would have been an honest answer. As a profile of me, that would have been an honest answer—”
“I’m interested! That makes it an interest!”
“—and baking! Okay, here’s a tip. If you’re going to put baking as a hobby, then when they ask you about the items you have in your fridge, don’t put ‘a bottle of champagne’ and ‘a chocolate bar.’ You can’t bake with champagne and chocolate.”
I thought hard for a recipe that used champagne and chocolate and came up short. Something was bothering me about this conversation, something nagging at its periphery that I couldn’t put my finger on. On my left, two schoolgirls had lost hold of each other’s hands. I saw my chance and pushed through them.
“You have no idea what I’m up to these days—”
“Well, I’m pretty certain it doesn’t involve baking and yoga! Good Lord! The only reason I knew it was you was because you put Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth as your favorite book. You may want to do something about that. That’s not the sort of thing that’ll have ’em queuing up at your door in this city. Biographies of dead Nazi architects.”
“He was the one Nazi who was man enough to stand up at Nuremberg and—” I began, when suddenly it came to me. But of course! How could I have been so stupid! It had been staring me in the face all along! “Hang on … How come you were reading my profile?”
There was silence on the other end of the phone.
“What were you even doing on Simpatico.com?” I asked.
An even longer silence, in which I could sense the swell of victory.
“A friend of mine is...
Top customer reviews
In my lifetime I've only read a handful of authors whom I would classify as "the best of the best." Tom Shone rests comfortably near the top of that list. Besides telling a story that is filled with a laugh-till-you-cry brand of slightly bent British humor, his literary mechanics are simply flawless. Rarely, if ever, have I found myself more absorbed in the quality of the author's writing than I did in his very interesting story. He writes with such flair and pace that I would revisit passage after passage just to savor his incredible style and skill. Carefully woven subtle punch lines and over your shoulder looks create a fast moving can't-wait-for-the-next-page kind of read. It's the type of novel that is so well written, it makes a new author ponder another vocation since he'll never be able to obtain Tom Shone's level of excellence ... I know, I'm that scribe.
William O. Wing
It is also a profound investigation of the AA paradox. The paradox is the AA insistence that you must surrender some part of your reasoning power although reason is what makes you want to stop drinking. How can brilliant creative people reconcile themselves to this?
I liked the author's style of writing because it seemed to move quickly.
Shone does a great job of building his characters.
A very well written fiction novel.
It was a nice effort. Not a terrible read at all. Just not my cup of tea.