(QUICK NOTE THAT I BEGIN EVERY WASTELAND DISPATCH WITH:
(Last year, 2016, I found myself struggling to get through a book as quickly or with as much enjoyment as I used to. No shade thrown on those books, but my life had become busier and it was easier to read io9 or cruise my Facebook newsfeed than crack open a book. I didn’t like that and the Goodreads Reading Challenge seemed like a nifty way to get my head back in the game. Of course, after setting my challenge, I realized I had way overshot my count in comparison to others–some of them reviewers, for Christ’s sake–so this became what will hopefully be a fun, year-long experiment on crashing and burning.
(But, on a related note, I’ve always wanted to see how I read over the course of a year, what my tastes were depending on the time of year, the circumstances, etc.
(So, here’s Dispatches from the Goodreads Reading Challenge Wastelands.)
Oh, Max. Ohhhhhh, Max.
I’ve known Max a long time; when I worked for one publishing company, I edited his first novel, Toxicity. Last year, he coaxed one of my currently-favorite stories out of me when we got to talking about Lauren Beukes’s Broken Monsters (the story, if you’re curious, is “All That You Leave Behind”, which appeared first in the anthology Lost Signals and then was reprinted in my collection Bones Are Made to be Broken). His short stories, to me, have always been grounded, while his novels are gonzo explorations of a (you would think) simple what-if; he throws as much shit at his characters to see what sticks and what they can dodge and he grows bolder with each novel he writes.
For the TL;DR crowd: There’s a reason I tend to think of Max Booth III in “rabid wolverine high on angel dust”; in his fourth novel The Nightly Disease, he writes a story that only the bastard child of Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarrantino, with equal amounts of absurdism and over-the-top violence, intermixed with depths into the main character that are, actually, more startlingly real than the goofy violence.
The Nightly Disease is about Isaac, a night auditor at a mid-tier hotel in the guts of Texas. Living a life best encapsulated by Trent Reznor’s “Every Day Is Exactly the Same” in 2004, a moment of selfishness, mingled with a moment of intense loneliness, soon spirals out of control in the most ridiculous, but oddly logical way.
The novel takes huge chunks of Max’s actual life–motel life, his job, the chronic masturbation–and fictionalizes them, passing it all through a filter in Max’s mind that no man should behold. Throughout all of it, fatalism permeates–you know that, even if Isaac survives, he won’t change and, ultimately, he’ll wind up in exactly the same situation as at the start of the novel.
The story SHOULDN’T work, but does; Max’s prose line always read, to me, like he’s sprinting along a high wire, with only one false turn of phrase or sequence to send him and the story plummeting to mutual, glorious death; as he gets more confident and skilled, it becomes more like sprinting across a balance beam and the likelihood of him (and the story) failing becoming slighter.
The absurd elements (they all involve owls) are handled deftly; you could make convincing arguments that either they really happened or Isaac is really cracked. Either one works. Usually a writer tips their hand pretty definitively, or at least leans to one side, but the lunatic portions of our program are left completely to the reader to decide on. I find that neat.
What struck me most about the novel is that Isaac is probably the worst hero–but also probably the most realistic because the dude, in his decision-making, is as shortsighted a person can be…which is fairly representative of the world at large. The reader keeps hoping Isaac will make sense and the right decision but, no, he left-turns into utter disaster and you can only shrug and go, “You know, that actually makes sense. The big, dumb idiot.”
In the end, The Nightly Disease follows what can now be typified as a “Max Booth III novel”: violent, absurd, fun to read.
You can pick up a copy here.