[New Harvest; 2012]

In Islam, the pursuit towards perfection is perceived as a sin. The process implies heresy, as though one were striving to be a part of the divine. That is why Islamic artwork contains deliberate imperfections: in order to convey a gesture of humility. Consequently, this idea holds true for people who attempt to better themselves through a career or an art form. By maintaining a sense of humility, one creates a type of freedom where human behavior is forgiven and the self has room to grow. Otherwise, without any blemishes, the individual loses sight of the opportunity to learn and is suffocated by the fear of mistakes. Progress feels self-destructive, and the individual suffers in a cave of psychological angst. Just like Muslims who believe that imperfections in art are integral for conveying human behavior, in his debut novel, Care of Wooden Floors, Will Wiles illustrates through descriptions of architecture, design, and city layout how the extremes of perfectionistic behavior are detrimental to the psyche.

By integrating dark, satirical humor, Wiles designs a horror novel. Wood floors become a life-force of their own, and wine stains reenact the imaginary blood spots of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth from Macbeth. Oskar, an Eastern European composer and conductor, asks his closest friend to house-sit his apartment for him while he is in California. However, Oskar’s home is not just any ordinary living space: it is a completely refurbished, pristine apartment that upholds the ideals of a perfectionistic lifestyle. Unfortunately, Oskar’s friend possesses a personality that is the polar opposite to that: he is messy, forgetful, and unorganized in every aspect of his life. Told from the viewpoint of Oskar’s friend, the novel begins with his airplane ride to Oskar’s city of residence. From there onward, the novel unfolds like a journal. Memories of the two friends are triggered, which divulge the various insecurities both he and Oskar possess. However, it is the friend, the embodiment of imperfection, who is most haunted by Oskar’s lifestyle. Because of this, the apartment becomes an ominous monster where each mistake — starting from a wine stain to accidental death — is a step further into his psychological torture.

Wiles creates a plot that is fast-paced and frenetic. However, in his attempts to keep the reader engaged with satire and witty turns of phrase, he loses the chance of providing his characters a three-dimensional quality. Despite the fact that many readers may have house-sat for a friend, or have known someone with perfectionistic tendencies, situations occurring throughout this novel are difficult for one to relate with on a personal level. Wiles’ saving grace, though, is his ability to articulate beautiful prose, which is clean, smooth, and natural. The observations of the main character — refracted through stunning metaphors illustrating the concepts of perfection, disarray, chaos, mistakes, and forgiveness — reveal Wiles’ own careful eye and experience as an architecture and design journalist.

Although Wiles use of vocabulary is verbose at times, with many esoteric terms familiar to the architecturally-minded, Care of Wooden Floors is a portal into a medium where emotion is expressed in our everyday lives. Wiles implies that the rooms to which we live, eat, and sleep and the communities where we interact with others can reveal a great deal about our personality and culture. Even though the qualities of an individual and their culture are often viewed through their actions, it is also crucial to remember to see character through an architectural standpoint. Ultimately, as Oskar says, “A room is a manifestation of a state of mind . . . We make our rooms, and then our rooms make us.” Perhaps in Oskar’s room and Islamic art we learn a similar lesson: that the human condition is built from imperfections.


 

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