Book Review : Max Booth III - The Nightly Disease (2016)
Texas-based author and publisher Max Booth III has been a regular feature on this site for the last couple years. His novels The Mind is a Razorblade and How to Successfully Kidnap Strangers made my year end's lists in 2014 and 2015 respectively. The guy is both good AND incredibly consistent, which is rare. I've had the privilege of reading his new novel The Nightly Disease a couple months ago, but held up on reviewing it until it would be (somewhat) available online. The excellent DarkFuse acquired the book and decided to serialize it in their magazine last October. While the limited hardcover is sold out and The Nightly Disease will TECHNICALLY only be available for purchase next winter, you can read the entire novel for a minimal fee here. Did I mention it was Booth's best work yet? So yeah, the Holidays are coming: pay the damn fee, pour yourself some cocoa, settle down and be one of the cool kids for once in your life.
The Nightly Disease is the story of Isaac, a young and lonely hotel night auditor in Texas. He is paid to arrive on time, unclog toilets, keep anything from exploding and eating shit from random guests who wander the hotel at obscene hours. His reality begins fragmenting the day a trainee starts telling him about her obsession with owls. Another strange, homeless girl shows up uninvited at the hotel, guests are starting to make insane requests and soon, Isaac starts wondering if he isn't loosing his goddamn mind His small and predictable universe will soon devolve into impossible romance, intimidation, disappearance, murder and sanity-challenging events. Who said night shift was supposed to be boring, right? Well, it's either boring OR dangerous...
This isn't even remotely similar to Max Booth III's trademark self-conscious, satirical genre fiction. The Nightly Disease is a much more personal novel. Booth made no secret on social media he's a night auditor himself and this book depicts the alternate reality of a working environment where nobody is their normal self except you. Every person you come in contact with is either confused, distressed or partying WAY too hard. They're also not compelled to be themselves because they're not home. The Nightly Disease is party about how different people are at night and how their reality begins to slowly consume Isaac through sleeplessness and overconsumption of caffeine. The book begins as a workplace novel and almost imperceptibly drifts into surrealism. Think the Grand Budapest Hotel meets Lost Highway if written by a prime Haruki Murakami. It might seem to be an unlikely mix, but it works. If it was a drink, they would be two-thirds David Lynch, one-sixtth Wes Anderson and one-sixth Murakami.
The Nightly Disease is also a novel about loneliness. Max Booth III understands the nature of the connection between loneliness and fantasy. Isaac is isolated in his normalcy and therefore start to project crazy narratives upon the only people he has regular contact with: the hotel's guests. It's never really clear if what's described is actually happening or hallucinated by the lonely and sleep-deprived auditor. The Nightly Disease is somewhat moving, which is uncharted territory for Booth, who usually makes fun of everything in his books. Don't get me wrong, The Nightly Disease is plenty satirical too, it just gets loneliness right and if you've ever been in a lonely place in your life, it's going to strike a chord with you. It's not melodramatic or overplayed, it "gets" what loneliness does to a person. Booth gives to his protagonist the imagined life several lonely night workers are dreaming of, halfway through their shift.
Max Booth III is a unique storyteller who's unbound by genre or conventions and The Nightly Disease is his most unique and daring novel to date. Satire can be a turn down for certain readers, but I'd argue that it can give a deeper emotional range to a novel when done with a purpose and it definitely is the case here. Working night shift is silly. It's even sillier when you're just tending to the complaints of people looking to take advantage of their position as customers. So, why should you read The Nightly Disease in one sentence? Because you've probably been night auditor Isaac at one point in your life. There was probably a point where everything was possible and nothing seemed possible for you and the only escape was in your mind. It just never turned against you quite like in this novel.