Daniel Kraus’s Rotters is an unconventional morbid tale of life, told through the obsession of death. It’s an ambitious take on a coming-of-age narrative that’s both rough on the edges and yet full of heart. Kraus takes his readers on a journey of the macabre in search of the beauty in life, which ironically is found beneath the gravestones, six feet within the Earth. It’s the artistry of grave robbing that teaches the book’s protagonist, Joey Crouch, that the things most people value, end up staying behind for the living to claim. Rotters reminds us of our mortality and how we are continually rotting away until our bodies are finally laid to rest. Rotters is a complex story of strained family relationships, friends, love, heartbreak, and most importantly, it questions our place in this world. Daniel Kraus printed Rotters in 2012 and is comprised of roughly 460 pages; the book was published by Ember, a division of Random House Inc.
According to Daniel Kraus’s official website, the synopsis for Rotters is as follows, “Grave robbing. What kind of monster would do such a thing? It’s true that Leonardo da Vinci did it, Shakespeare wrote about it, and the resurrection men of nineteenth-century Scotland practically made it an art. But none of this matters to Joey Crouch, a sixteen-year-old straight-A student living in Chicago with his single mom. For the most part, Joey’s life is about playing the trumpet and avoiding the daily humiliations of high school. Everything changes when Joey’s mother dies in a tragic accident and he is sent to rural Iowa to live with the father he has never known, a strange, solitary man with unimaginable secrets. At first, Joey’s father wants nothing to do with him, but once father and son come to terms with each other, Joey’s life takes a turn both macabre and exhilarating.”
Given Daniel Kraus’s history with the horror genre, with such titles including The Monster Variation (2009) and following Rotters with Scowler (2014) and The Shape of Water (2108), it comes to no surprise that Kraus would include horror elements to provide Rotters the dark undertones needed to effectively tell a chilling story. Joey Crouch is a character that many of us readers can relate to, with the exception of his particular circumstances of grave robbing. He’s a teenager struggling to fit in at a new school, constantly trying to figure out his identity and place in this world, smart, and of course, falls prey to the relentless heartache of unrequited love. Joey’s character in Rotters takes several shifts throughout the novel, which I found not only refreshing, but very engaging; I’d understand and support his decisions, then I’d be upset with his choices and where they’d lead him. The relationship between Joey and his father, Ken Harnett, takes a snail’s pace of development within the first half of the novel. In fact, the first half of Rotters focuses primarily on Joey’s relationship with Ken as well as his social status as the inconspicuous “freak” teenager in high school. It’s not until the second half of Rotters that we begin to notice a change of pace and direction of our central characters, as well as a developing conflict.
Kraus’s writing is exceptionally impressive as his ability to describe characters and their environments brings about the dark atmospheric tone that makes Rotters such a unique story. Kraus’s “voice” takes control of every scenario as his narrative, as clear as glass, allows readers to peer inside the story with an imagination armed with distinguishable style. Rotters is a novel that challenges readers to reflect on our own mortality as well as the decisions that either place value in the things that matter versus the things that don’t. Daniel Kraus has managed to write a novel that reflects the literary voices of the past, as Rotters borrows elements from the macabre such as the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, the obsession with the dead as with Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein and the haunting atmosphere told in eerie detail just as M.R. James ghost stories. You may see Rotters listed as “Young Adult Fiction”, but don’t let that stop you from giving Kraus’s novel a chance. It’s a dark flirtation with death and how the coming-of-age of protagonist Joey Crouch provides insight on the living, through the dead. If you can muster the courage to read through the first half of the novel’s slow development, you’ll be in for a stellar second half. Thanks for reading. Enjoy the novel’s trailer below.