Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
If you have ever worked at a hotel–or worked in any sort of customer service field for an extended period of time–then you know how soul crushing it can be.
The author of The Nightly Disease, Max Booth III, took his real-life job as a hotel night auditor, injected it with a potent mix of PCP and owl urine, and managed to craft a novel as hilarious as it is disturbing.
Isaac works at a hotel in Texas on the overnight shift. As you might imagine, he has to deal with a fair share of drunk/unruly guests, run-of-the mill douchebags, and plenty of general annoyances he’d rather not deal with. Thankfully, Isaac’s odd work hours provide him with long stretches of time to binge Netflix (or pleasure himself on the hotel’s roof). He also has a crush on the homeless bulimic girl who steals food from the buffet every morning, so that’s kind of sweet.
But when Isaac finds a lost wallet in the hotel parking lot and decides to keep it, things tailspin into operatic levels of tragedy and carnage. As his life is permeated by various shady/dangerous characters, the level of weirdness rises right along with the body count, forcing Isaac into a string of impossible situations where the only way out is to make things worse. As if all that weren’t bad enough, the talking owls have become harder to distinguish from the real ones dropping people from the hotel roof…
…and the guests are still demanding fresh towels.
The only reason I decided to read this book was because I’ve enjoyed Booth’s work before and we are internet acquaintances. Otherwise, The Nightly Disease seemed tailor made for me to hate it. The rambling narrative jumps all over the place via an exceptionally unreliable narrator before landing on an ambiguous conclusion.
Thankfully, it turned out to be too damn funny and enjoyable to put down.
Much of Isaac’s experiences are drawn from Booth’s own time behind the overnight lobby desk. As someone who has to interact with a lot of night auditors for field trips every year, I can confirm that not only are his stories plausible, but they aren’t even the weirdest things folks in his line of work have to deal with.
In Booth’s hands, however, these tales are told with an acerbic wit that feels like a mixture of Larry David and Bill Hicks at their collective breaking point.
As far as the main plot is concerned, Isaac’s actions and observations are clearly born of a man completely who is losing his mind. Thankfully, he’s polite enough to keep a coherent and well written narrative throughout his mental disintegration–and his sense of humor actually seems to sharpen.
Booth never lets you get too comfortable with Isaac, either. Just when you decide he’s sympathetic or disgusting, his life is upended again, forcing him to do things that may or may not be right…or may not actually be happening at all. Add in a healthy dose of horror–via murderous owls and violent small-time criminals–and you’ve got a story that would make both David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino smile and nod in approval.
As much as I enjoyed the journey of The Nightly Disease, the ending of the book felt a little too open-ended. We’re not talking Lost levels of unfulfilled payoff, but a lot is left hanging in the air by the last page.
Thankfully, we do avoid a brick wall conclusion via a final passage that is both thematically satisfying and depressingly hilarious.
If you’re looking for a traditionally structured horror novel with bland, stock characters and predictable story beats, then stay away from this one. If
you want something that is truly different and entertaining, however, you could do a lot worse than The Nightly Disease.
And no, this is not one of those super weird books you have to pretend to like so people will think you’re edgy. Booth may have written a novel without a definitive genre, but he did not take that as a license to vomit words onto the page in whatever order they happened to form…or maybe he did and it just turned out really well. Either way, The Nightly Disease is one of those rare works that manages to mold pure chaos into a streamlined injection of well-defined characters along with a fantastic narrative.
Also, there is currently a new version of the book for sale with a bunch of bonus material I missed the first time–which means you get to experience it without the shame of buying a second digital copy of the same book. I guess I could ask someone who has read it for spoilers, but I’m pretty sure the story won’t be anywhere near the same–or as entertaining–unless Isaac is the one telling it.