Back in March, I was lucky enough to get a review copy of “Rotters”, by Daniel Kraus. Initially, I wasn’t all that excited, but that changed about nine words in. It’s about grave robbers. For me, of course, that happens to be a deal breaker. I love scary, macabre weirdness. And oh boy is it weird.
Now, on the surface, “Rotters” is a simple story. Joey Crouch lives with his mom in Chicago. They’re very close. Sometimes it borders on smothering, but he’s all right with that. He’s never been out of Chicago, but that doesn’t bother him too much, either. He’s basically a normal kid living a mostly normal life.
This changes when his mother dies. Crushed and shocked, Joey is even more horrified when he finds out he must go live with his father. A man he’s never met, a person his mother never even spoke of. Someone he’s barely heard of, the reason his mother refused to leave Chicago.
And Joey has to uproot and live with him.
Life is harder for Joey than he had ever imagined. For no reason, he is immediately ostracized and tormented at the school. Joey has no room there, no bed. There isn’t even any food. When, several days into his stay, he desperately searches a classmate’s purse for lunch money, a teacher catches him. Rather than pry and see what the trouble is, the teacher takes it as an excuse to torment Joey as terribly as any classmate.
As for Joey’s new home: the house reeks. The rotten stench infiltrates everything.
Joey’s father Harnett is a mystery, and a mean one at that. He has a reputation in this new town. He’s known as the Garbage Man. Yet it’s obvious he doesn’t have any part in public service. He disappears for days at a time. Joey doesn’t mind too much, though.
But this shaky peace dissolves when he finds a container full of gold teeth in his father’s room.
The awful truth tumbles out swiftly. The stench, the absences, the strange behavior of his father–it all comes togeter. Ken Harnett is a graverobber.
To my surprise, “Rotters” was stunning. Lyrical and poetic even in the midst of its darkness, it broke my heart and made me laugh just as often as it disgusted me. High school cruelty and teenage pettiness mixes perfectly with meth-head graverobbers and ongoing tragedy. All through the story, Joey’s character develops beautifully, and so does that of his father. In fact, all of the characters are fantastic. The plot is by turns delightful, shattering, triumphant, and, as so many others have noted, demented. Don’t let the subject matter turn you away. “Rotters” is a gorgeous piece that is ultimately about one young man’s plunge into the abyss and his struggle to climb out.