REVIEW: We All Sleep in the Same Room
Confinement is the dominant feeling of Paul Rome’s strange and concise debut novel. In We All Sleep in the Same Room, Manhattanite Tom Claughlin shares a bedroom with his wife Raina and their three-year-old son Ben, eliminating any chance of intimacy and creating an atmosphere of claustrophobia and dread. Rome creates a similar environment for the reader, caging them in the mysterious space that is the protagonist’s mind.
Taking place over four months in 2005, we follow Tom as he toggles from home life to his job as a labor lawyer, with little else in between. At home, Tom interacts with Raina, Ben, and the family’s new babysitter, Frank. At work, he is concerned with two women: Doreen, a former health clinic receptionist whose case he is defending, and Jessie, his attractive 24-year-old assistant. Even when Tom briefly interacts with people who exist outside his routine, it still seems as if there are few others in his world, resulting in a New York novel that feels as domestically isolated as one in the suburbs.
This is a character study, with the reader trapped in Tom’s mind
, as he moves through his life and makes morally questionable decisions with an eerie calmness. Tom is a good father who pursues a noble branch of law with professionalism and dedication. He is genuinely committed to Doreen’s case, believing in workers’ rights and second chances. Yet he also has problems with alcohol and pursues Jessie with little guilt or thought of his wife. Tom may not be the only character making questionable decisions, but since Rome plants us so firmly inside his perspective, we are restricted to his worldview and emotional truths. Our sympathies lie with him, even if that might not be the right choice. An image of Frank with Ben that appears menacing is moments later revealed to be a complete misinterpretation. Still a feeling of unease lingers, as Frank becomes a prominent figure in both his son and his wife’s lives.
This psychological mood is also reflected in Rome’s controlled prose. Clean and sparse, his voice is all the more memorable for its originality, compared to the plot which at times can feel too familiar. Tom is yet another middle-aged man, dissatisfied in his marriage, contemplating an affair with a much younger subordinate. Doreen’s case also seems headed towards an obvious and doomed conclusion. The novel is at its most compelling when it touches upon the dark places of dreams and memory, or the oddness of observing and interacting with strangers in a large city — these moments are much more interesting than watching the boxes of a midlife crisis be checked.
We All Sleep in the Same Room withholds in ways that tantalize and leave you wanting more, brilliantly reflecting people’s fear of never truly knowing others, even the ones closest to them.
Rome reminds us that each of our experiences are limited by the insular world of our own minds.
While most novels allow us to to experience the perspective of someone else, We All Sleep in the Same Room serves to emphasize our own captivity. As we join Tom in his attempt to break free from routine and circumscription, we begin to fear that the only escape from our diminishing world will come when it finally implodes.
Featured image from collageOrama