The Way Inn
I’m sure how describe this book in a way that doesn’t make it sound completely stupid. Let me try…
Okay, so there’s this guy, Neil Double, who attends boring trade conferences for a living. He’s your go-to surrogate when you just can’t take another jet-lagging flight, three-day stay in a crappy hotel, and hours of power-point presentations on “consumer buy-in.” Neil, it turns out, loves hotels. He loves hotels so much that if a conference is held close to his house, he’d still rather be at the hotel. He stays at a particular hotel chain, The Way Inn, and…after all this time, the hotel loves him back because it’s a sentient, space-warping, soul-devouring…erm, thing.
When reduced to its plot points like that, this book sounds ridiculous and maybe even clichéd or overdone (evil hotels? Stephen King’s Shining, anyone). Luckily (?), much of the book isn’t really about all that.
It is, but it isn’t.
The real genius of this book is two-fold. The character of Neil has a lot of what I call “mundane magic.” This isn’t a real writing term. I made it up. But what I mean by it is when a character has some arcane knowledge — and maybe it’s just something simple like a witty observation about hotel carpeting — that can give the reader a sense of really being in someone else’s head. Asides about human nature or the smell of buses in the rain…when these things ring true, a reader gets sucked into the story just to experience something. No matter what the genre, when done well, this is the stuff people call “transportative.” The Way Inn is highly transportative in this way.
The second bit is that everyone loves a con horror story. Science fiction folks actually spend a lot of time in hotels. There’s a science fiction convention somewhere in the world every weekend; that’s a lot of hotel stays. No matter how wonderful the actual convention, there are always those little things that go wrong – a shuttle bus that won’t show up on time, missing reservations, etc. When a bunch of those pile up, it makes for a good story.
And, I think the sort of out-there, ridiculousness of the plot ends up not breaking my suspenders of disbelief because Wiles invests so much time in the beginning of the book anchoring the reader in the real world. Plus, hotels are weird when you think about them. Hotels make a meant-to-be unnoticed, yet not inconsequential impact on any business travel experience. A crappy hotel can kill your trip, but a good one is invisible – yet not. Their whole point is to be forgettable in a memorable sort of way. So the idea that you could push through one of those “alarm will sound” doors and come out in the same hotel in a different country? Eh, I could buy it. Why not?