Come Join Our Disease by Sam Byers
In a developed world that celebrates the clean - and, because of Covid, more or less demands it - Come Join Our Disease celebrates the dirty. It’s a counterintuitive novel because its theme runs so doggedly counter to the washed, scrubbed and sparkle so celebrated on television, in advertising and on social media feeds, where there’s no room for unwanted pubic hair, spotty complexions, bodily secretions or even the idea that someone could smell of anything other than, say, deodorant or the latest perfume/after shave. How Maya and Zelma, the book’s protagonists, embrace and develop their sick and dirty journey isn’t as unlikely as it seems. They react against the whole wellness and beauty industry because they come to understand it’s nothing to do with personal development and more to do with creating a shiny perfect citizen who’s more productive at work, and whose healthiness is slowly making the sick day the choice of those not drinking enough oat milk or doing enough Zumba. Soon their sick revolution/dirty protest attracts adherents, who also realise that striving for healthiness and cleanliness in a world that’s already terminally sick is pointless. But how far does one go on a ‘journey’ with no exact destination? Is freedom from society’s obsession with wellbeing the answer or another kind of cage? And what if the men who control society decide that freedom (even the freedom to be nothing) is dangerous and needs curtailing? Not for the faint hearted or easily offended, Come Join Our Disease runs over with faeces, urine, sweat and all the mucky humanness we spend our lives trying to repel. As Zelma says, “Everything is so ‘clean hands’ these days”. Well, as this novel posits, it was. Genuinely different and disturbing, Sam Byers has written the most love it or hate it novel I’ve read in years. And, yes, that’s a good thing.
Come Join Our Disease – Sam Byers – publ. Faber - £8.99