After first viewing the film based on the book last June, I was hungry to read the book; starving as I was for more information about the midnight disease, I purchased the book from the Strand bookstore on a returning, sight-seeing trip to NYC. I learned that the intriguing and sad character professor Grady Tripp first encountered the idea when he was a child: A writer by the name of Albert Vetch—who, explained on the first page of the novel, wrote under the name of August Van Zorn—lived in the hotel that Grady’s grandmother owned. Vetch, saddened by the death of a lover, eventually killed himself. Chabon describes the midnight disease as “a kind of emotional insomnia; at every conscious moment its victim—even if he or she writes at dawn, or in the middle of the afternoon—feels like a person lying in a sweltering bedroom, with the window thrown up, looking up at a sky filled with stars and airplanes, listening to the narrative of a rattling blind, an ambulance, fly trapped in a Coke bottle, while all around him the neighbors soundly sleep” (p. 20).
Another author in Wonder Boys, Q., had written a book about a man whose Doppelgänger was ruining his life. Tripp thinks this idea is a lot like the nature of he midnight disease— “[it] started out as a simple feeling of disconnection from other people, an inability to “fit in” by no means unique to writers, a sense of envy and of unbridgeable distance like that felt by someone tossing on a restless pillow in a world full of sleepers. Very quickly, though, what happened with the midnight disease was that you began actually to crave this feeling of apartness, to cultivate and even flourish within it. You pushed yourself farther and farther apart until one black day you woke to discover that you yourself had become the chief object of your own hostile gaze” (p. 76). At the risk of over-explaining—and boring you all with long passages from the book—there is one more place that the midnight disease was mentioned in the book: “I looked up at the dark window and thought of how it was said that acute insomniacs often experienced a kind of queasy blurring of the lines between dreams and wakefulness, their waking lives taking on some of the surprising tedium of a nightmare. Maybe the midnight disease was like that, too. After a while you lost the ability to distinguish between your fictional and actual worlds; you confused yourself with your characters, and the random happenings of your life with the machinations of a plot” (p. 233).
The movie does a good job of following the book aside from a large portion of the middle. In the book, Grady—and James Leer, a student of his—goes to his wife’s parent’s house and spends passover with them. And, not that this really matters in the way of plot, but I don’t remember his wife being Korean in the film though she is in the book. In the movie, if my memory is correct, the Marilyn-Monroe-coat that James stole from Walter’s bedroom was never given back to him, but in the book it was. Also in the book there was an amazing scene in which Walter, having finally been told that Grady was having an affair with his wife Sara, confronts Grady—I don’t want to ruin it for you but there is a Joe-DiMaggio-baseball-bat used for retribution.