Katie's Reviews > Rotters

Rotters by Daniel Kraus
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Jul 10, 2012

really liked it

After Joey Crouch's mother dies, he finds himself forced to move in with a distant father he's never met and knows almost nothing about - distant in an emotional sense, but also in the sense that he disappears for days on end without leaving Joey any directions or, say, food. The son of the town mystery/loser/guy who lives in a cabin in the woods with no phone, he finds himself rechristened "Crotch" by the kids at his new school and suffering daily abuse at the hands of his sadistic biology teacher. With nothing left to lose, he decides to sneak along on one of his father's disappearances, only to discover the truth that his father is a grave robber.

As that last revelation ought to lead anyone who's read more than about 3 books to suspect, this book is about death. Granted, a lot of books are about death - the argument could perhaps be made that all of them are, insofar as life and death are intertwined. But Rotters is full of gruesome descriptions of corpses (bloated or wilted, in varying states of decay). Kraus doesn't shy away from the parts of death we-the-living prefer not to think about. This includes physical horrors ("coffin liquor", getting eaten by rats) and the horrors of the physical - the ultimate democracy of death. Ultimate in both senses, the last and the greatest. All of the embodied will rot away eventually. Joey, after he joins his father, seems to try to escape this fact by embracing it; to Joey, he and his father are already like the dead, they seem somehow separate from those who don't spend nights digging 6 feet under. Though his life is basically one big memento mori, he feels as though he is already not-living and so doesn't seem to grasp that he will die. From there, the book spirals further and further into horror.

Kraus is a pretty great writer. His character-building was excellent, and the world of grave robbing that he created (...I hope?) was engrossing (heavy emphasis on the gross). Every time I thought the book couldn't get any more messed up, it did. The situations often felt - surreal? magical? - but I think that was only because I wanted them to be. I mean, there are some parts of the novel that I really wanted to be supernatural, but in the end there's little that's more natural than death. Really my only complaint is that the foreshadowing is occasionally a bit heavy, but I didn't feel it detracted overmuch from the story. I'd suggest that, if possible, you read this snowed in and alone somewhere cramped, because the breezy July evenings during which I read this never stopped being a shock to come back to when I put the book down.
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