Friday, October 26, 2012

Rotters, by Daniel Kraus: Dig it or die (and some other Hallowinners)

Rotters by Daniel Kraus Delacorte Books: New York, 2011. ISBN: 978-0385738576

Chicago native Joey Crouch experiences a spell of rotten luck when he is sent to live with the father he has never met following the accidental death of his mother.  When Joey meets Kenneth Harnett, who lives in squalor in a cabin in small town Iowa, he realizes his life has taken a serious turn for the worse, but things are just beginning a downward spiral.  Not only is his dad a stinky social misfit who disappears for days at a stretch, but the kids in town call him the Garbageman, and immediately begin to excessively bully Joey.  Joey is understandably miserable, but curious as to where his sullen father disappears to.  He follows him one night, and to both his horror and intrigue, discovers that his father is a professional grave robber.  Strangely fascinated, Joey convinces him to take him on as an apprentice.  In doing so, he enters the weirdly scientific, gory, and engrossing world that is the secret society of the Diggers, an organization of rapidly aging grave robbers.  To his great surprise, he discovers a great deal about his own family history, and begins to grow in confidence, even as the stakes are raised and a family feud resurfaces to wreck havoc on his newfound semblance of stability.  At times both brutal and gruesome, this story is not an easy one, but like Joey, readers will be unable to tear their eyes away from the page.  It is recommended for strong stomached adult and teen readers grades 10 and up.  

I can’t tell you with any confidence whether or not I raced through this book because I was hooked by the suspense, or if I just wanted it and all the grave related gross to be over.  I suspect a little bit of both.  This book is brilliant; I never want to read it again.  Because EW.  EW.  EW.  SO MUCH ROTTING.  I am not a weak-stomached person, and oh sweet merciful did I gasp at some of the incredibly rich, and therefore incredibly detailed descriptions of decomposition.  Holy train wreck fascinating - but man, just throw me into the ocean or something.  I don’t want all the gross funeral home things or coffin or expensive funeral/burial things to happen!  Seriously, crack open a few bottles of red, give me a Ghanian coffin, set it on fire, and throw me overboard, mateys.  Or whatever.  I’ll be dead!  But this book really begs us to ask: why do we care so much about what we get buried with, if we no longer believe we will take those things to the afterlife (if that’s your jam).  Additionally, why oh why, do we care about how we are preserved?  We are dead.  No matter what you believe, I think we all agree that your flesh is gonzo (but I could be wrong, if say, you’re into Lenin).  So why pump it full of - okay stopping.  I no longer want to think about what funeral parlors do in their basements.  

Another question that begs asking: what the what possessed Daniel Kraus to write this book? Again, brilliant.  But seriously?  How does a book like this even happen?  Yes, it is a oddball coming of age tale, with themes of bullying, loss, family, personal challenge, growth, and ultimately, triumph.  And yes, there have been many other books about grave robbing (The Good Thief comes to mind).    However, this may just be the most unique concept for a coming of age tale I’ve come across.  And the most incredible part?  As our protagonist becomes desensitized to the gore, the readers become desensitized to it as well - though Krauss does throw some curveballs towards the end that pose the question of what is more horrific: what man can do, or what nature can do?

My final questions (one is a potential spoiler, so proceed at your own risk):
- How the how did you learn so bloody much (like, literally, bodily fluids) about grave robbing and decomposition, Daniel Kraus?  SUSPECT.

- The Spoiler-y one:  Where the zipadedoda is nutjob Boggs getting such easy access to Polaroid film?  He lives under many a bridge!  He has no mailing address!  As a non-photographer, is this stuff easily purchased at photography stores (which are increasingly not too common)?  I spent far too much time thinking about this.  

For readalikes or other Hallowinners, check out The Good Thief, The Monstrumologist, or read Frankenstein with my half-ass book club that is still limping along, in my head.  

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