Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Will Wiles, The Way Inn (2014)

Chain hotels are so sort of blank and anonymous that nobody really thinks very much about them, but there's no reason why that blankness and anonymity shouldn't be explored. Said blankness and anonymity, after all, doesn't just happen; it comes of companies carefully trying to synthesize an approximation of lived human life into this aggressively controlled, artificial environment, only it doesn't come out like that, does it? Instead, what we get is this shiny, blank simulacrum, as typified by the clip art of smiling, well-dressed men and women checking in, socializing, sitting at conference tables, &c. There's certainly something faintly sinister implied by all this, and here comes ol' Will Wiles to quite effectively explore it.

Our hero is Neil Double, who has a job as a “conference surrogate,” visiting interminable trade conferences in or near interminable hotels to kind of just get the gist for clients. It's the perfect job for him because he really, really likes the anonymity of these hotels. He is at one such when things start to get strange, and saying more would be spoilery; the big twist seems eminently guessable (though I didn't, I admit), but it's still cool, and the slow ramping-up of the hotel's creepiness is extremely well-done.

I really do admire this book a lot; in addition to being a nicely-told science-fiction thing, Double's character arc is also quite good, in an understated way: the anonymity and the absence of real humanity is what he likes about these hotels, as emblematized by his frequent one night stands, and his gradual reconnection with the world is subtly and deftly executed.

So there's really not much I can complain about in this novel (excepting an abortive plot-line regarding a organizer who accuses Double of being a “conference pirate” and tries to blacklist him, which takes an awful lot of space and then goes nowhere and, as far as I can tell, comes with little or no thematic resonance), but man, I just can't help myself from saying: even with its rather smart postmodern touches, it's one of those page-turners where you get to the end and think: is this all there is? It neatly concludes its story, and then, bam, it's out. If there's not a body of theory on what gives a work of fiction this particular affect, there ought to be; I'm not convinced it's wholly congruent with literary quality. Whyever it is, though, there it is. I wouldn't NOT recommend The Way Inn, but I'm not ultimately quite as down with it as I thought I would be. I will say, though—and I know this sounds sort of patronizing, but it's not meant to be, and it's one of the truest things I've ever written—that it would make a great movie. The scale seems just about perfect, and there are some action set pieces that, while more than sufficiently well-done on the page, would be hella cool on the screen with appropriate special effects. It's such a perfect fit that I had to do a quick google search to see if it was already in the works, and was sort of surprised to see that it wasn't. JUST YOU WAIT!


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