cover image Disease


Sarah Tolmie. Aqueduct, $12 trade paper (102p) ISBN 978-1-61976-193-3

This imaginative but uneven collection of speculative shorts from Tolmie (The Little Animals) takes the form of a diagnostic manual for a variety of invented diseases. The strongest entries are also the strangest, including “Carborundum,” in which a man discovers he is made of glass and uses his unique physiology to become a highly skilled stripper, and “The ‘Pied Piper’ of Abandoned Pets,” about a man with a rare condition that draws a menagerie of animals to him. In weaker entries, Tolmie relies heavily on allergic diseases, mining them for humor that is too-cute at best and obliviously insensitive at worst; in “Polysemy,” a girl has allergic reactions to her mother’s puns; “Killing Joke” sees a man who’s allergic to comedy go into anaphylactic shock; and the egregious “Allergic Hyperarousal” follows a man who “reacts with instant sexual arousal to the presence, not of peanuts in food, but of metabolized peanut nutrients in the blood of human beings.” Though the conceit of this collection is fascinating, readers with disabilities or chronic illnesses will likely be especially put off by Tolmie’s shallow treatment of disease. This is one to skip. (Aug.)