Somewhere, in a dark, half-forgotten corner of Texas, there’s a hotel where some pretty weird stuff is going down. It’s probably no coincidence that the night auditor of said hotel is the novelist Max Booth III, either. Novelists are strange people. Strange things seem to happen around them. It’s as though they make people aware they’re living inside a giant fiction. And Max is strange by even those standards. I first encountered his work when I read The Mind is a Razorblade, a gripping horror-cum-psychological thriller about a man trying to claw his memories back out of the dark vault of his mind. Oh, and there’re some creepy telepathic spiders to boot. I was pretty awed at the time by his effortless blend of sharp-witted satirical comedy, goose-bump inducing horror, and genuinely original speculative elements. I was awed again when I picked up The Nightly Disease. Max has a style that takes you like an undertow. Before I’d blinked, I was 100 pages deep, the real world forgotten. Time began to slip on me, reading this book. Which is exactly what happens when you work as a receptionist, or a night auditor, or a call centre administrator. That’s what The Nightly Disease is at its heart, a gruelling indictment of our cut-throat service industry, and deeper than that, of people. People have created this monster, and now people give life and limb practically to ensure its continuance.
The Nightly Disease opens with a “History of Hotels”, which is actually a history of the author himself, his relationship with hotels which started at a very young age, his family life growing up, and why, of all the places he could be now, he’s working at a hotel. Max tells us, within this opening, that this is the most “personal” book he has ever written, and it’s evident, in every letter, in every punctuation mark. Max works as a night auditor at a hotel somewhere in Texas. Here, now, he is writing a novel about a night auditor, somewhere in Texas. There is a misconception that writers should hold back all of themselves, that the reader must not be “intruded upon” by the writer’s personal views and experiences. I think all great writers throughout history prove this theory wrong. The more personal a book, the more universal it is, bizarrely. Max has poured himself into this novel, and into the protagonist, Isaac, who is the night auditor at The Goddamn Hotel. And it’s all the better for it.
Within the first 20 pages of this book I cried. Heavy, chest-aching sobs. There were a number of reasons why. Perhaps it’s because I myself have worked in hospitality (and call centres, which have a similar vibe) and could wholeheartedly relate to the dreadful experience of slaving for another’s profit. Perhaps it was because I discovered that me and Max were born in the same year, and were both home-educated, and therefore I could feel a kinship between us. But I think most likely of all, it’s because he captured, in a beautiful microcosmic moment, the essence of what it is to be human, to be alive. Make no mistake, the style this book is written in is sublime, by which I mean epic. It is subversive – not, like so much pretentious modern art, for the sake of it – but in that it twists and turns on itself, like a mind at war. Sombre existential dread gives way to explosive humour and wit. Moments of tenderness are interrupted by callous iniquity. It is Shakespearean in that it captures the full range of human emotion and experience. The Mind is a Razorbladewas good, even great, but The Nightly Disease is Max’s masterpiece.
At times, it will make you laugh out-loud. The sheer expressiveness of the first person prose, and the sense of character you get behind it, are a force to be reckoned with. Isaac is disillusioned, which is the understatement of the century – as well as angry, vituperous, but with the smallest, smallest atom of humanity left in him, which makes him better than all the rest. His thoughts are like a barrage, coming thick and fast, and his similes and metaphors, whilst often grotesque, have their own absurd brilliance:
“Behind the mask of my face, a hive of insects participate in an orgy.”
Just look at the layers of that metaphor. The mask, which he wears every day to talk to customers. The insects, his gnawing doubts and paranoias. The orgy, which at once conveys to us the twitching in his facial features, and also implies the undercurrent of sexual repression. Isaac gets his kicks by masturbating on the hotel roof and is sure he’s “rotted” his mind with porn. This book is full of such brilliant turns of phrase – it never lets up.
The other characters in this novel are equally well drawn; given the first person narrative, we see them predominantly through Isaac’s lens, and it is fascinating to see his opinion of them evolve over time (as well as their view of him changing too). This is not a novel of two-dimensional pieces being moved around a board. The people here feel real, like you could have bumped into them in a hotel foyer. Speaking of which, the details he provides about the hotel guests, and their behaviour, is almost beyond belief. Max has offered us grim insight into this world, quite unlike any other, and its a vision that will stand the test of time. If this novel teaches you one thing, let it be that you should always be polite to night auditors, lest they decimate you in their books.
The plotting is anarchic – like a Tarantino film – perfectly encapsulating the phrase “bad to worse”. The Nightly Disease at times feels like an expert comedy sketch, one where every element set up at the start will eventually play out in some ludicrous but entertaining way at the end, only it has been stretched (without dilution) for the length of an entire movie, and had John Carpenter level terror and paranoia thrown into the mix. As events domino, there are several jaw-to-floor moments where Max turns the narrative on its head. The strangeness of the hotel, and the conspiracy of owls, is more than simply a clever excuse for dreamy scenes (so much of weird fiction is weirdness for weird’s sake). It is integral to the plot, integral to the character, integral to the denouement, which comes like an almighty day of reckoning, a thief in the night, just when you think this book cannot possibly resolve all its conflicts. Where are the fucking owls indeed. You’re about to find out, kid. Max defies so many narrative conventions, spits in the face of those who say “you can’t do that”, and yet manages to tell a story that feels like it has purpose and meaning. Despite how brutally depressing a novel of this sort could be, there is a wild energy to it, and a celebration of those in these unfortunate situations – their tenacity, their sheer give-no-fuckedness – which elevates it beyond its own nihilism.
The Nightly Disease is one of the best novels I have read in a long time; it puts Max right up there with the best in horror: Grady Hendrix, Richard Thomas, even the great King himself. It is a compulsive read (I devoured all four hundred pages in just a few days), laugh-out-loud funny, and at times even creeped me the hell out, which is not easily done. The symbology of the novel is textured and deep, for those who like meat to the bones of their books, to analyse what each carefully placed symbol or detail means. This is not just “pulp fiction”, yet it has all the energy, excitement and dynamism of that genre. There are echoes of The Shining, for those who love King (and a genius scene that homages him in a very surprising way), as well as Lynch’s Twin Peaks. But this never takes away from what remains Max’s signature style. I think, perhaps, that is what I admire most about Max Booth III and The Nightly Disease: here is someone who profoundly knows who they are and what story they want to tell. Here is someone prepared to be honest about what reality is like. In our world of endless pretence, that is a startlingly courageous achievement.
The Nightly Disease is published by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing is available here.
Max Booth III
Raised in Northern Indiana
Lives in a small town outside San Antonio, TX
Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Perpetual Motion Machine
Managing Editor of Dark Moon Digest
Author of The Nightly Disease, Escape from Dinosauria (w/ Vincenzo Bilof), How to Successfully Kidnap Strangers, The Mind is a Razorblade, Toxicity, and They Might Be Demons
Editor of Lost Signals, Truth or Dare?, Long Distance Drunks, So it Goes, Zombie Jesus and Other True Stories, and Zombies Need Love, Too
Writes online for LitReactor and Gamut
Reviewed by Joseph Sale
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