Wednesday, July 16, 2014
In his first novel, CARE OF WOODEN FLOORS, Will Wiles did something I'd previously thought impossible; he made me care deeply about the removal of a wine stain from the floor of a meticulously modern apartment. From this simple accident Wiles spun a masterful, complex contemplation of order and chaos, of favors gone awry and friendship strained by human frailty. It was a tale told with equal parts humor and horror and, remarkably, it kept me turning pages well into the night.
Thus it was with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation that I approached Wiles' sophomore effort, THE WAY INN. Would this novel measure up to the oddly high bar set by its quirky predecessor? The answer became obvious in the first few pages. I was checked into THE WAY INN every bit as securely as Wiles' less-than-noble protagonist, Neil Double. I didn't have to like Mr. Double, I only had to believe I was seeing the world through his eyes and this I did with ease. Through Double I found myself contemplating the mundane, the relentlessly packaged, processed, economically engineered, corporate approximation of refuge, the modern chain hotel.
One of Wiles talents as a storyteller is his ability to amplify the contrast levels in his tale to extreme levels while still retaining the reader's belief. We smile at the absurdity, but we buy into it. Neil Double is not just a bland business traveler, he's a PROFESSIONALLY bland business traveler. He's a conference surrogate, he goes to business conferences so other businessmen don't have to. And the conference he's attending in this tale? It's the conference of conference organizers. The conference, of course, is being held at the MetaCentre.
In lesser hands this tale of the bland and boring could certainly be bland and boring, but Wiles has an eye for the odd and a strong sense of the absurd. Neil Double is soon a victim of misadventure and chance encounter. A mysterious red-haired woman has pointed out something odd about the abstract paintings that populate the rooms and hallways of THE WAY INN and by the time the mysterious and sinister hotel executive Mr. Hilbert appears, Mr. Double is deep into a thriller that could give Alfred Hitchcock a severe case of vertigo. And if Rod Serling turned out to be the night manager of THE WAY INN, I would not be the slightest bit surprised.
But THE WAY INN is surprising, odder than you can imagine unless your name is Ray Bradbury, Neal Gaiman or Will Wiles. THE WAY INN is a masterful metaphor for an age where corporations are people and people are cogs in machines we too often ignore. But THE WAY INN is more than metaphor, it's a fun story. Neil Double has a problem, it's easy to check into THE WAY INN. Checking out is something of a nightmare.
But don't let that deter you. I checked out 343 pages of THE WAY INN and I'm not quite sure I've left it yet. But it is time very well spent. I'm weary, wiser, and more than willing to buy whatever the next tale is that Mr. Wiles will choose to tell.