Environmental hazards such as chemicals, additives, pollution and allergens abound in today’s world. We are bombarded by them on a daily basis, yet for most of us, our bodies are able to filter out these foreign substances. But for some people, who call themselves “sensitives”, these bodily processes break down over time, causing people to develop an oversensitivity known as environmental illness, or EI.
Oliver Broudy (The Saint) investigates this condition in a multilayered way, weaving history, science, nature, health and psychology into a narrative with a good old-fashioned road trip as its backbone. Broudy chronicles his journey with a sensitive named James to find Brian, also a sensitive, who has gone missing and just happens to be a leader within the EI community. The two men drive to Snowflake, Arizona, a kind of “sensitives headquarters.” Here they hope to get more intel on Brian, and Broudy hopes to interview Liz, the community’s main “contact.”
Along the way Broudy provides informative commentary about EI, a disorder that can be intensely painful, irritating and maddening, leading those who experience it to develop a range of illnesses and idiosyncrasies. He provides a myriad of theories, expert opinions and patient feedback, highlighting the fluidity of EI’s impetus and evolution.
As the two men thread their way through the western U.S., Broudy describes in vivid detail the sparsely populated outposts that seem frozen in time and the desolate landscapes with rock formations rising up out of the earth as “wrinkled battlements surrounded by the dross of their own crumble the way an autumn tree is ringed by leaves.” Learning about EI is fascinating and even infuriating, but the excursion and bonding experience between the author and his travel companion is even more intriguing. Over miles of open road, Broudy and James learn more about each other and themselves, and the reader is educated about a chemical threat that is “woven into the fabric of everyday life.” The Sensitives: The Rise of Environmental Illness and the Search for America’s Last Pure Place is one road trip you’ll want to take.