It turns out a novel about trying to keep a floor clean can be edge-of-your-seat compelling. Who knew? Journalist Will Wiles’ fiction debut, Care of Wooden Floors, takes this unlikely plot and twists it into a tight, lovely, unique work full of heart as well as darkness.

An unnamed narrator agrees to housesit for his old college friend, Oskar, in a dreary, unidentified Eastern European city. He doesn’t know how long the gig will last, and he hopes the stay in Oskar’s meticulously kept environs will get his writing juices flowing. It’s deceptively easy: care for the cats, use a coaster and above all else, don’t damage the floors. But this seemingly painless job goes terribly, terribly wrong.

Terribly, hilariously wrong. A wine stain is only the beginning, and the slapstick moments, tinged with threat, are nimbly choreographed. What’s truly wonderful, though, is the narrator’s imperfection—his vulnerability, humanity. As one mistake leads to another, Oskar’s demanding notes multiply throughout the flat, and our narrator’s struggle to right his growing disaster brings our own faults uncomfortably, somehow pleasingly, right up close. And while the story chronicles one man’s problems, it ably takes a larger view, pitting control against chaos and examining the madness that the quest for perfection can bring.

The book suffers a little from an oddly stunted ending. But the ride is such a tense pleasure, it doesn’t even matter. Wiles is a strong new voice. Enjoy this one with a glass of wine—if you dare.

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