Take alcoholism - the disease du jour - build a sloppy story around it masquerading as sophisticated New York humor, throw in recovery jargon and slogans and, voila! You have In the Rooms. I’m sure Shone’s intent is to mine the innate absurdity of celebrity recovery and an assortment of program-spouting weirdos in the bumbling attempt of a transplanted British literary agent to get a deal with a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who can only be accessed through meetings. To achieve his goal and impress his new bosses in New York, Patrick Miller attends so-called meetings and before he knows it, everyone assumes he is a newcomer to sobriety. Soon enough, he’s having intimate conversations with literary recluse Douglas Kelsey, who hasn’t published in years: “His secret felt like my secret somehow.”
The problem is that Shone can’t decide whether this is a send-up of recovery or a crisis of conscience of a deeply confused individual whose ambition runs aground on a gaggle of newfound loony friends who march around spreading misinformation (that even I know is ridiculous). He covers it all: the cult, Higher Power, amends, a hodge-podge based on blatantly absurd media hype, a smorgasbord of craziness between office, bars and meetings that becomes just tedious. Does Patrick “catch” sobriety? If what Shone purports in this book is sobriety, who cares?
There is a real sense of nibbling around the edges here for the sake of exploitation, not the broad strokes of human foibles but a parody of a process that arguably works for many people but has been usurped for profit by a raft of clinics, Hollywood and the media. Between New York society pretensions and utter nonsense, there are far more literate - and accurate - novels that either explore the horrors of addiction or write with real humor instead of mock-sophisticated cynicism. There is humor to be found in tragedy, the near-escapes from alcoholism and addiction, but such efforts usually laugh “with” the characters, not “at” them, as in this poor excuse for a novel. Would make a great straight-to-DVD exercise for B-list actors.