Working with the public in an entry-level job can be demoralizing; whether you work in retail or fast food, the dregs of humanity and the individual’s desire to lord their power over the laborer send shivers down the spines of those who know. Some people make a career out of it and go into management, while others find a way to move into another career or end up suffering through it for a very long time. The Nightly Disease is Max Booth III’s novel of an existential crises suffered by a young man who works in a hotel—Isaac—and we find reason to laugh at the horror of the character’s all-too-familiar struggles, and we are thankful it’s him rather than us. If you work in any customer service industry, Isaac is the anarchic, lovable character who is never heroic but is every bit of hardass we want to be on the job. If you’ve thought about doing it, Isaac has, too, and he is probably acting on it…
Storytellers usually craft characters we can empathize with, and in the case of Isaac, we are going to ask a lot of the same questions that people ask of anyone who hates their job: why don’t you get another job? Why don’t you get an education, pursue a career? Booth gives us the snapshot of a character who inherits the damning position, and we’re able to experience the debilitating conditions that imprison people in menial jobs that they hate. We ask these questions of people all the time, but more importantly, why are they here, and how did they get to this point? This is where the narrative shines brightest; Isaac is “committed” in the way that a mental patient is committed to a clinic, and the emotional/mental cost allows for Booth’s touch of surrealism to creep into the narrative in believable fashion. If we can believe how awful people are willing to act toward another human being in public, it’s not a stretch for talking owls to appear. I realize how unbelievable that seems, but in the context of the narrative, Booth’s ability to add surrealism underscores the plot’s chain of events.
Present is Booth’s flair for dialogue and situational tragic-comedy in the vein of Cohen Brothers slapstick. This book did manage to get a few guffaws out of me, and Isaac’s cognizance of his plight ensured that I never pitied the character or found him pathetic, despite moments of wallowing and despair; if I found the character helpless and pitiful without any qualities that would engender further exploration of Booth’s world, I would have put this one down quickly. As with the majority of Booth’s work, his ability to weave self-loathing into a fantastical situation elevates the comedic elements and allows the dialogue to shine. Booth, and by extension, Isaac, is a juggler of chaos, and even more objects are tossed into the air near the novel’s conclusion, as Isaac’s gradual unraveling teaches our protagonist a bleak and realistic life lesson.
A dark comedy that hits all the right emotional notes at the right time. Whenever I attempt to review a novel, I always review in the context of its genre with consideration to overall personal entertainment; Booth’s approach is unique, which is why I pick up each new novel with one big question: how is he going to do it this time? By IT, I mean get me to laugh, wince, and connect. Another engaging Boothian read.