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The Brand New Catastrophe, Mike Scalise


PW Top Ten Book for Fall 2016 in Memoir & Biography

Buzzfeed Books, “The 32 Most Exciting Books Coming in 2017”

Baltimore Sun, "The Best Books for Summer 2017"

Read It Forward, “17 Books We’re Excited to Read in 2017”

The Coil, "Best Books of 2017"

After a ruptured pituitary tumor leaves Mike Scalise with the hormone disorder acromegaly at age 24, he must navigate a new, alien world of illness maintenance. His mother, who has a chronic heart condition and a flair for drama, serves as a complicated model. A moving, funny exploration of how we define ourselves by the stories we choose to tell.

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Additional Info

Mike Scalise’s work has appeared in Agni, Indiewire, Ninth Letter, The Paris Review, Wall Street Journal, and other places. He’s an 826DC advisory board member, has received fellowships and scholarships from Bread Loaf, Yaddo, and the Ucross Foundation, and was the Philip Roth Writer in Residence at Bucknell University. His memoir, The Brand New Catastrophe, was the recipient of The Center for Fiction's 2014 Christopher Doheny Award.


"His way is with humor, optimism, courage and probing introspection, the very characteristics—combined with crisp prose and a rare and innately interesting medical condition—that make this a winning literary debut.”
The New York Times Book Review

“An offbeat, witty memoir. . . .  Scalise is unsparing in recounting his reaction to his diagnosis while keeping the reader engaged in a story about catastrophe. . . . Sensitive and well-written.”
Publishers Weekly

“Fascinating and engaging. . . Scalise's narrative verve and brisk prose create a winning chronicle of illness, recovery, and 'courageous defiance.' A frankly written debut memoir that captures all the fright of a medical calamity and the humor and grace necessary to survive it.”
Kirkus Reviews

"In his memoir The Brand New Catastrophe, Mike Scalise meditates with crackling wit and self-awareness on chronic illness, family, and the clichés of catastrophe stories."
—Kenyon Review

"The Brand New Catastrophe charts Scalise’s life with acromegaly, a tumor-based pituitary disorder which traffics excess growth hormone throughout the body, but there’s just as much incisive writing on the more universal trials of being a son, a brother, a midwesterner. . . making for a book as much about ostensibly healthy people as their purportedly sick counterparts. . . . [The Brand New Catastrophe's] passages are teeming with vulnerable humanity, comedy which never seems forced, and jaw-dropping moments nestled in quiet scenes."

Pete Tosiello, Kenyon Review

“The effects of illness on self-image and its gravitational pull on family, friends, and spouse are touchingly detailed in this upbeat health memoir.”
Booklist review

"Despite the seriousness of the subject, The Brand New Catastrophe manages to be as funny as it is smart about mortality, the fragility of our bodies, and understanding the worst things that happen to us."
Buzzfeed Books

The Brand New Catastrophe reveals the human experience of acromegaly with a beautiful and skillful clarity, rendering the rare and misunderstood disorder with an intimate, personal grace.” 
Literary Hub

“[Scalise] artfully balances coruscating wit with gritty realism...This is the most entertaining book about a brain tumor you’ll read for a while. . . . A thoughtfully conceived and skillfully executed debut.”
Electric Literature

“Despite his careful tracking of his own illness, Scalise’s memoir is not the narrative of a catastrophe . . . Scalise’s acromegaly is more recognizably a strain of Seneca’s asthma or Susan Sontag’s cancer. It is a point of departure for a work that is as much about idleness, the slow progression of treatment without climax, and the ways in which we form identities that embrace, as much as resist, what inflicts us. . . . Sublime.”
—The Iowa Review

“A unique account of living with acromegaly.”
Daily Mail

"Putting his cards on the table from the start, Scalise not only challenges us to judge his book according to his own criteria, but asks us to consider the conventions of the genre he is writing in and what purpose—both positive and negative—these serve. . . . The first thing to note is that Scalise lives up wholly to his own criteria. . . . his book [is] so engaging and free of the self-pitying tone he advised tellers of catastrophe anecdotes to avoid. . . . Scalise suggests that the real illness narrative is not about overcoming the initial onslaught of the sickness, but about how to live on in its aftermath, having to define yourself as existing, at long last, apart from the mere fact of your disease."
The Millions

“Wry and insightful. . . . Scalise enriches his story with a history of acromegaly, and the result is a charming twist on the traditional illness memoir, and a deeply moving coming-of-age story.”
—Interview, The National Book Review

“A simple and human story, about fear, self-doubt, deep-seated family resentment that goes back generations, romantic love, and a mother-son rivalry full of mutual love, respect, and animosity…. What makes The Brand New Catastrophe so beautiful is that Scalise genuinely never wants your pity, or even sympathy. If anything, he only wants to make you laugh (his biggest priority) and to tell you something honest about his fear, self-doubt, and insecurity…. The Brand New Catastrophe is beautiful because of its true sense of intimacy."
The Collagist

"Scalise’s account of the disorder—including fascinating descriptions of the medicine treating it—is simultaneously complex and accessible, altogether vivid....The Brand New Catastrophe is a stunning, unforgettable memoir; a masterfully intimate and honest portrayal of a writer who has fought hard for perspective amidst the shattering impact of illness, struggling for self-definition and control in the face of chaos. Above all, it is the work of a writer deeply concerned with connecting to his readers and deftly bridging the significant gap that illness places between them, with humor, humility, and grace."
The Phoebe Journal

“This heartrending and heartwarming memoir will help put your own life into perspective.”
Read It Forward

"This memoir weighs in on disorders, family drama, offbeat catastrophes, and courage, with endearing optimism and candor, and humor so charming that you’ll be right there smiling and applauding as Scalise reinvents himself for an unexpected life."
The Coil

“[Scalise’s] tone is honest, serious when it should be, and funny when it doesn’t have to be. . . Scalise’s memoir, in particular the contrast between his own medical adventures and his mother’s experiences with chronic congestive heart failure, is a critical analysis of how patients should approach the “sick role.” . . . Reading memoirs like Scalise’s—and other patient narratives, like Sarah Manguso’s The Two Kinds of Decay and Belle Boggs’s The Art of Waiting and Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face—helps doctors see lives beyond diagnoses.”
—Dr. Andrew Bomback, Ohio Edit

“A very funny book about the frailties of the flesh, the absurdities of modern medicine, and how to stay sane amid it all. Scalise’s voice is fantastically entertaining, unfailingly honest.”
—Dave Eggers, McSweeney’s founder and author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

“This remarkable, riveting memoir is often extremely funny—not something I expected to say about a book that chronicles the life-altering effects of the disease behind gigantism. Scalise himself, meanwhile, is an ideal narrator: self-lacerating and observant, without a petty or small-minded bone in his (thankfully, not yet gigantic) body. I loved this book.”
—Tom Bissell, author of Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve

“Mike Scalise’s startling and slyly hilarious memoir is a heartfelt reminder of how astonishing, how terrifying, how absurd it is to be a body. An essential book for those who’ve lived through catastrophe, or only imagined it.”
—Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine

“The coming-of-age during an illness memoir is a genre we rarely see, and Scalise writes with maturity and hard-won wit about the ways in which a chronic illness can test the bonds of family. But even more surprisingly, he explores how life within an unruly body can be weirdly freeing, making The Brand New Catastrophe a hugely entertaining read.”
—Courtney Maum, author of I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You

The Brand New Catastrophe strips away piety, jargon, and false feeling to show us what people, real people, really do and say when disaster hits. With the acuity of Ivan Ilyich and the giddily defiant humor of Lorrie Moore, Scalise swings back at the absurdities and indignities of illness and knocks them flat.”
—Will Boast, author of Epilogue

“In this stunning memoir, Mike Scalise takes readers on a hilarious and heartfelt journey through the mental and cultural landscape of physical illness. Written with humor, spirit, and artistry, The Brand New Catastrophe will endear you to the confusion at the heart of every personal catastrophe. You’ll have no choice but to fall in love with this debut talent.”
—Jen Percy, author of Demon Camp

“Mike Scalise's The Brand New Catastrophe is a funny and clear-eyed view on illness, family, obligation, and gigantism. It asks what we owe those we love and what we owe ourselves in moments of crisis. It's a jokey, melancholy, and deeply thoughtful love letter to the pains and pleasures of having a body that sometimes goes wrong. I loved it, and you will, too.”
—Kaitlyn Greenidge, author of We Love You, Charlie Freeman

“Mike Scalise’s memoir of his diagnosis and coping with acromegaly is smart and compelling, particularly because it acknowledges the tropes and clichés of ‘catastrophe narratives.’ He crafts his disaster story to give himself an illusion of control over his pituitary abnormality, and his strong, energetic voice subverts expectations about what it means to be ill. This astute memoir is moving without being sentimental.”
—Elliott Holt, author of You Are One of Them

“Mike Scalise’s memoir The Brand New Catastrophe depicts a world where one’s body is attacking them from the inside. Scalise suffers from acromegaly, a condition he shares with Andre the Giant. Like Andre’s, his story is funny, honest, devastating, and human.”
—Box Brown, author of Andre the Giant: Life and Legend

“As funny as it is harrowing, as poignant as it is unsettling. Scalise is a natural storyteller, the kind of writer I'll follow anywhere after having read The Brand New Catastrophe.”
—Stephen Sparks, Green Apple Books, San Francisco, California

“Mike Scalise suffered what he likes to call ‘a catastrophe.’ Scalise’s tale is interesting in amazing ways, the least of which is his easy-going approach to what many would consider the end of ordinary life. Scalise is a glorious writer whose wit takes him to every corner of his peculiar circumstance, and is willing to joyfully take readers through the museum of his peculiar physiology. Mary Roach talking about herself. Oliver Sacks in Fantastic Voyage. Such a joy.”
—Paul Ingram, Prairie Lights