Wilmington’s literary community keeps gaining accolades (two National Book Awards nominees in 2015) and attention in the press. With multiple established publishers in the state (Algonquin, John F. Blair) and new smaller presses gaining traction (Eno, Bull City), it is timely to shine a light on discussions around literature, publishing and the importance of communicating a truthful story in our present world.
Welcome to Carpe Librum, encore’s biweekly book column, wherein I will dissect a current title with an old book—because literature does not exist in a vacuum but emerges to participate in a larger, cultural conversation. I will feature many NC writers; however, the hope is to place the discussion in a larger context and therefore examine works around the world.
by Patrick Carman
Scholastic, 2011, pgs. 261
I read more widely than most people imagine. Though, I tend to not write about many books I read in print for a variety of reasons: They are too personal; they are non-fiction research without a narrative thread; they are by an author I have already written about many times; they defy discussion, etc.
Sometimes, though, the book I need to read is not one I expect.
Last week I picked up a copy of “Floors” by Patrick Carman, a young-adult novel about a boy named Leo who lives in The Whippet Hotel—the wackiest, zaniest, craziest hotel in New York City. He and his dad are the maintenance crew and live in the basement. I picked it up because I am in the middle of trying to get my literary themed bed and breakfast open, which is consuming so much of my mental space I am having trouble remembering nouns. The idea of a totally over-the-top zany hotel seemed like something I could relate to right now. Besides, I might learn a thing or two; it has been known to happen.
The Whippet is on prime Manhattan real estate. Developer vultures are circling and the founder and owner of The Whippet, Merganzer, is missing. To make matters worse, someone appears to be sabotaging The Whippet. It is all Leo and his dad can do to keep the hotel from falling down around everyone. In the midst of this, Leo discovers a box addressed to him that is the first in a series of clues that lead to adventures within the hotel. Each one is a test he has to solve to get the next box.
Clearly, it owes a lot to Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”: an economically disadvantaged school-age boy; a marvelous, magical place created by a secretive eccentric; and (spoiler alert) a series of tests that eventually confer ownership of said magical place upon the boy. Not that paying homage to a story that has resonated for generations of people is a bad thing. In fact, I tip my hat to an author who takes the same tropes and rewrites it in a different setting that requires the protagonist to grow during the course of a compelling story. That is exactly what Carman does. Leo has to succeed through ingenuity, friendship and learning to trust the people who love him. He also has to learn some hard, adult lessons about his heart. But when he does succeed, he is chosen to carry on The Whippet Hotel, and keep it safe, keep it running and care for the people who care for it.
Everyone has periods of doubt in their lives. We just do. Entrepreneurship has a lot. I have had a mercurial week emotionally with the B&B, bookstore and trying to figure out how to care for those dependent upon me. I made it through payroll and quarterly payroll taxes and literally did not have two quarters to offer to put in the parking meter when Allison and I pulled up in front of Cape Fear Community College for the ServSafe Class we’re required to take to open a B&B. By Thursday I was rounding up scrap metal to sell in order to buy dog food.
Should I contemplate walking away from all of it and get a corporate job with a regular paycheck and a retirement plan? Should I sell the house, walk away, give up? Do I need to get a loan and try to make it through? It seems like I have come so far on this journey and to walk away would be … sad,!at best. But if I can’t provide for Jock and the dogs? If I struggle to meet my obligations to the people who depend upon me?
Then I got to the climax of “Floors.” Merganzer, disguised as a real-estate developer, offers Leo $50 million for The Whippet Hotel. Leo contemplates that kind of money. He and his friend, who has solved the clues with Leo, could both go to college. His father could retire. But Leo chooses the hotel over the money because The Whippet Hotel is more than a financial investment.
I cried. I nodded.
I closed the book and reminded myself what I am doing is not just about return on investment. The investment is the people I love and those who are making it happen with me. Magic isn’t something on a ledger sheet.
Now, Leo and Merganzer live in a realm of fiction where Merganzer has more money than I could ever fathom. That does make paying the bills easier. However, the message, the reminder is the same:
There are things you can’t put a dollar figure on. Those things you have to make sacrifices for are worth it. Don’t trust them to people who don’t understand that.
Thanks, Mr. Carman, for sending me Leo. I really needed him this week.