Disease By Sarah Tolmie

Sarah Tolmie’s Disease is a collection of 20 speculative fiction pieces depicting imaginary ailments such as addiction to butterscotch pudding, allergy to comedy, and the compulsion to innovate even the simplest of actions. Written in a matter-of-fact way, albeit with a dose of humour, the “articles” could almost fool the reader into thinking they are written about real situations. The inclusion of “case studies” adds to the sense of authenticity.

Some of the pieces expand on existing phenomena or situations, either by twisting them or by taking them to ridiculous extremes. For example, many of us know people who seem to be “pet magnets.” They’re the folks who can walk into a room and within two minutes have even the most aloof cat or dog begging for their attention. Tolmie takes that notion several steps further in “The ‘Pied Piper’ of Abandoned Pets,” to both humorous and horrific effect.

“It’s Tolmie’s imagination, combined with her sly and sometimes satirical sense of humour, that makes the pieces work so well.”

“Carborundum” explores the dilemmas faced by someone who discovers he is made of glass. This piece was one of my favourites—funny all the way through yet also possessing a philosophical flair.

The article “Tourist Sensitivity,” which depicts a Dublin-born woman who spontaneously breaks into an Irish jig whenever the number of tourists exceeds the number of locals in a certain area, was also memorable, and “Fat Reading,” in which a woman gains weight simply by reading recipes, made me laugh.

It’s Tolmie’s imagination, combined with her sly and sometimes satirical sense of humour, that makes the pieces work so well. In “Killing Joke,” which is about a young man who is allergic to comedy, Tolmie notes: “He could not go to school, jokes being common among the students and also a pedagogical technique; his parents longed for the bygone days of unfunny education.” When the subject grows to manhood, he finds a suitable partner who is an excellent match for him because as a career scientist she is “able to keep a straight face for long periods of time under ridiculous conditions.”

Most of the pieces have a satisfying twist at the end. Though they are fanciful, they also contain astute observations about human nature. The piece “Divination,” for example, begins with the comment, “People rarely tell the truth. At least, they rarely say what is uppermost in their minds in a given moment.”

See also  Stella's Carpet by Lucy E.M. Black

Disease isn’t a traditional sort of book. The collection was nonetheless enjoyable for its imaginative scope and the generous injection of humour. Disease is Volume 76 in Aqueduct Press’s “Conversation Pieces” series, which includes collections of short fiction, novellas, essays, and poems.


Author Sarah Tolmie is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Waterloo. She has had two novels and two non-fiction collections published by Aqueduct Press, as well as other works put out by McGill-Queen’s University Press and Baseline Press.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Aqueduct Press (Aug. 14 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 120 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1619761939
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1619761933

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Lisa Timpf is a retired HR and communications professional who lives in Simcoe, Ontario. The five years Timpf spent in Nova Scotia while pursuing Master's level studies in Sports History at Dalhousie University left her with a lasting affection for, and interest in, Canada's East Coast. Timpf's writing has appeared in a number of venues, including six Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, Small Farm Canada, Our Canada, Star*Line, and Eye to the Telescope. You can find out more about Timpf's writing projects at http://lisatimpf.blogspot.com/.

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