Mike Scalise has done the impossible: written an illness memoir, his debut, The Brand New Catastrophe (Sarabande 2017), that is somehow hysterical. When Scalise was 24, a ruptured pituitary tumor left him with the hormone disorder acromegaly. Afterwards, Scalise had to navigate an alien, hormonal world where a heated conversation was potentially lethal because of the stress-inducers his body couldn’t attack. Scalise's mother makes a kind of comedic, co-diseased sidekick with her constant erupting heart conditions. If this were television, a mother-focused spin-off would be in order. But beyond the humor, The Brand New Catastrophe is an exceedingly well-written, taut, moving narrative-with-essaying-spice of how people define themselves by the stories they choose to tell. Scalise, from the book’s first pages, widens his lens to include story-telling. And so the book becomes the bizarre story of the storymaking of bizarre illness.
Mike Scalise’s writing has appeared in AGNI, Ninth Letter, The Paris Review, Wall Street Journal, and other places. He has received fellowships and scholarships from Bread Loaf, Yaddo, and the Ucross Foundation, and was the Philip Roth Writer in Residence at Bucknell University. The Brand New Catastrophe won the Center for Fiction's 2014 Christopher Doheny Award, and The New York Times called the book “a winning literary debut.” Because Scalise was so adept at humor I wanted to talk with him about how he did it, and while we were at it, we discussed his book, Sarabande, and his mom. Mike was kind enough to answer some of my questions through the great digital nebula.