It takes a skilled writer to craft an interesting and entertaining tale about carpet installation, but David Amadio has done that and a lot more in his delightful debut novel, “Rug Man.”
Of course, the story here is not just about carpet installation, for Amadio has a larger tale to tell. In its heart, “Rug Man” is about discipline, sacriﬁ ce, humility, dedication to craft and the possibility of unexpected grace when one’s world seems to be – um, well – unraveling.
The hero of this unlikely epic is Frank “Ace” Renzetti, a carpet installer in the upscale neighborhoods of Philadelphia’s Main Line for some 40 years. We meet Ace – who was modeled after the author’s father – as he embarks on a massive carpet job in a gated community in Villanova, Pa. The home is owned by an eccentric divorcee, and its rooms are practically crawling with subcontractors who seem to have been there forever, plus a dog with a nasty habit that involves carpet.
Starting a massive job is the worst possible time for Ace’s back and knees to start to fail. To make matters worse still, he loses both his helpers to a drug bust. As the challenges mount, it seems Ace’s world is about to crumble, before a potential savior appears in the form of a paperless El Salvadoran. Amadio (heh heh) weaves this carpet layer’s tale in masterful fashion. The characters – even the most minor – are carefully conceived and fully realized. The storytelling is masterful and rich in clever detail.
The author ﬁnds pure poetry in Ace’s observations as he labors on his hands and knees:
Brought low, the carpet installer sees the room on a level unimagined by the resident. He becomes intimate with its forgotten parts, its cable wires and outlets, doorstops and registers. Things present themselves beneath the baseboard: pennies, Q-tips, stamps, Legos. Never anything of value, but then he’s not there in the capacity of an explorer, he’s not down there to make discoveries. Prostrate before this netherworld of which all but the toes are ignorant, he thinks of himself as a caretaker of the invisible warden of the dark and dusty corner. The thought brings him neither pride nor honor, just a deeper sense of the mission to leave things as he found them, to act as if he – like the forgotten – were never even there.
And there is something almost Dickensian about Amadio’s multitude of workers who roam the divorcee’s house like lost souls trapped in a nightmare job seemingly with no end in sight. This is the surreal setting in which Ace serves as a quiet exemplar of true craftsmanship in an on-demand era that values speed, instant gratiﬁ cation and work that’s merely “good enough.”
The suburban Philadelphia setting of “Rug Man” springs so colorfully to life that it’s hard to imagine the story told anywhere else. Ace owns a modest split-level in (where else?) Broomall. He keeps his warehouse workshop in (where else?) Upper Darby. And his chiropractor’s ofﬁ ce is on (where else?) West Chester Pike.
At 188 pages, “Rug Man” is just as long as its story requires. Rather than carpet-bomb his audience with digressions, Amadio keeps his prose taut and tight, and leaves the reader hungry for more. The book is a clinic in story-telling by a writer who has mastered the craft.
Amadio teaches creative writing at Lincoln University near Oxford, Pa. His work has appeared in Cleaver, Packingtown Review, Adaptation, Talking River, Nerve Cowboy, and the San Francisco Examiner. He belongs to a three-man comedy troupe called the Minor Prophets, which has written, directed, and produced over 30 award-winning short ﬁ lms. He lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two children.