Rotters (by Daniel Kraus)

6 01 2013

rottersWhen Joey Crouch’s mother suddenly dies, Joey is uprooted from Chicago to a small rural town in Iowa to live with a father who doesn’t even have the same last name as him. Life is hard on Joey, who was in Chicago a straight A student and loved to play the trumpet. Things take a turn for the worst, when Ken Harnett not only doesn’t pick him up from the station but also ends up being the town pariah – he’s nicknamed the Garbageman! The harsh circumstances at Harnett’s cabin – no food, no bathroom, no washing machine, no electronics – are nothing if not shocking, but at Bloughton High, Joey soon becomes the school pariah too (he can’t escape the horrible stench that is all over his father’s shack), bullied by the jocks (who start calling him ‘Crotch’) and a crueler than cruel biology teacher. He even loses the only friend he had in Chicago, Boris, who tells him not to call him again.  Because Joey wants to know what his father is up to at night, he decides to follow him and discovers his father’s secret: he’s a grave robber! Almost begrudgingly Harnett takes on his son as an Apprentice. From then on Joey sort of leads a double life. By day he goes to school, trying to keep up his straight As (as a sort of promise to his mother), but at night he accompanies his father on his job… a job that Joey describes in every minute horrific stinking decaying detail. And as horrible and disgusting everything is in the book… as a reader you’re almost spellbound: you want to know what is going to happen next with Joey and the Diggers, but also with Joey and his life at school. The juxtaposition of these two worlds also begs the question which hell is worse: that of the grave robbers or that of Bloughton High School.

The best way to describe Daniel Kraus’ writing is compelling. We experience everything from Joey’s almost authorial voice, which succeeds in both creating a certain distance between the reader and what is going on in the book (grave robbing, not your average teenage pastime, right?), but at the same time there are such incredible details about the machinations of e.g. digging a hole, robbing a grave, decaying bodies etc, that this voice is almost hypnotizing you and urging you to dig deeper (sorry!) into the story of the Diggers. Almost so much so that you can smell the stench!

Rotters is definitely not for the squeamish… it’s a true horror story, unflinching in its execution, uncompromising.  Although the book does sag a little bit at times, and is probably also a tad too long, it proves what an excellent world-builder and storyteller Daniel Kraus is. And even though Rotters deals with some seriously disturbing things, there’s a tragic truth to be learned here about the value of human life and human dignity – at all levels!


Also, here’s a bonus:

2013-01-03 11.39.03



2 responses

19 01 2014
Scowler (by Daniel Kraus): to horror or not to horror. | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] talent for writing the true psychological (and physically revolting) horror that he also used in Rotters. And just like in Rotters, the reader should not expect Kraus to compromise. This is a […]

22 04 2014
The Waking Dark (by Robin Wasserman) | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] However, if the Maine Master of Horror doesn’t shake your bones enough, try Daniel Kraus’s Rotters and Scowler or Andrew Smith’s The Marbury Lens and […]

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