Summary and book reviews of Kockroach by Tyler Knox

Kockroach

A Novel

By Tyler Knox

Kockroach
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  • Hardcover: Dec 2006,
    368 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2008,
    368 pages.

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Book Summary

In Kockroach, a wholly original work of literary noir, Tyler Knox brilliantly turns Kafka's The Metamorphosis on its head.

It is the mid-1950s, and in a fleabag hotel off Times Square, Kockroach, perfectly content with life as an insect, awakens to discover that somehow he's become, of all things, a human. This tragic turn of events would be enough to fling a more highly evolved creature into despair, but cockroaches know no despair. Firmly entrenched in the present tense, they are awesome coping machines, and so Kockroach copes. Step by step, he learns the ways of humans—how to walk, how to talk, how to wear a jaunty brown fedora.

In Times Square he discovers a blistering sea of lights, a great smoking god, walls of glass laden with food, and the opportunity to rise in the human world. Two companions guide him on his way: Mite, an undersized gangster suffering an acute case of existential angst, and Celia Singer, a reserved woman with a disfigured body who finds in Kockroach a key to unlocking her hidden passions.

As Kockroach, led by his primitive desires and insectile amorality, navigates through the bizarre human realms of crime, business, politics, and sex, he meets with both great triumph and great disaster. Will he find success or be squashed flat from above? Will he change humanity, or will humanity change him?

Packed with love, violence, and a perverse sense of humor, Kockroach is the classic tale of an immigrant's search for the American dream as seen from a stunning new perspective.

Chapter One

As Kockroach, an arthropod of the genus Blatella and of the species germanica, awakens one morning from a typically dreamless sleep, he finds himself transformed into some large, vile creature.

He is lying flip side up atop a sagging pad. Four awkwardly articulated legs sprawl on either side of his extended thorax. His abdomen, which once made up the bulk of his body, lies like a flaccid worm between his legs. In the thin light his new body looks ridiculously narrow and soft, its skin beneath a pelt of hair as pale and shriveled as a molting nymph's.

Maybe that is what has happened, maybe he has simply molted. He reflexively swallows air, expecting his abdomen to expand into its normal proud dimensions and the air to swell his body until the skin stretches taut so it can begin hardening to a comforting chocolate brown, but nothing happens. No matter how much air he swallows, his body remains this pale pathetic thing.

A flash of red rips through the...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The author sets much of this story in the New York City of the 1950’s, the era of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and the McCarthy hearings, as well as the era of Kerouac, Ginsberg and the Beat Generation Why do you think he chose that setting for Kockroach’s metamorphosis?
  2. The author uses different tense and person combinations in telling the story: the Kockroach chapters are told in third person present and broken up into short prose sections; the Celia chapters are told in third person past; the Mite chapters are told in the first person. Why do you think he made these choices and are they appropriate for each character?
  3. Kafka never stated that Gregor Samsa, the protagonist in The Metamorphosis...
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Reviews

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It goes without saying that one has to suspend disbelief to read either Kafka's Metamorphosis or Kockroach, but somehow, when one observes human nature, it is easier to believe that cockroaches dressed as men are walking the streets than vice versa!   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
The San Francisco Chronicle - Mark Luce

Kockroach's story of friendship, betrayal and greed, however quirkily fun and at times insightful, never really settles into a groove. Part noir, part eerie cautionary tale, part confession, Kockroach has storylines and themes that knock each other around like pool balls caroming on a table with no pockets.

The Washington Post - Ron Charles

Don't be squeamish; pick up this witty, unsettling book. Even if you can't read, you'll enjoy the little flip-movie printed on the bottom right corner of each page that shows a cockroach transforming into Kockroach. You'll think of him every time you turn on the bathroom light and surprise those little scavengers going about their business while you go about yours.

The New York Times - Matt Weiland

Unlike Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, Kockroach is spectacularly successful — indeed the novel becomes a commentary on the nature of American success itself. Summing up Kockroach’s career at the end, Knox writes: “In the world of crime, he first was an enforcer. In the world of business, he first was an exterminator. In the world of politics, he first will be a senator.” It’s a fine line between Gregor Samsa and Richard Nixon.

USA Today - Deirdre Donahue

Knox handles the noir stuff well. But the novel gets its originality, its humor and its kick from the way Knox applies Blatta's insect past to his human present.

Library Journal-Joshua Cohen

Debut novelist Knox presents a study of human society from a unique perspective.

Booklist - Steve Weinberg

Knox's tale is complete with heroines, harlots, and love triangles, and honest and corrupt businesspeople, cops, and politicians.

Kirkus

The plot has the memorable clarity of fable, but it's the creepy-mythic atmospherics-imagine a hybrid of Ted Hughes's Crow poems and pulp-noir film fare like the Candyman series-that make this one cook. Surreal, standoutdebut fiction.

Publisher's Weekly

Starred Review. The book's conceptual cleverness is ultimately eclipsed by the epic story line, making for a compelling story of greed and power that is more Chandler than Kafka.

Reader Reviews
Emily

The Sky is Purple.
I enjoyed this book a lot, a wonderful approach to exploring the human mind and particularly how emotions effect our individual beings and society as a whole. Just as a tidbit because I noticed that someone above had said that this was Knox's first ...   Read More

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Tyler Knox is the pseudonym of former Philadelphia lawyer William Lashner, known for his Victor Carl legal thriller series. Lashner decided to write under a new name not for the purposes of "rebranding or putting one over my readers ..... but purely for the freedom of doing something completely new." On Sarah Weinman's website he explains that he loves writing crime fiction and, within the requirements of the genre, can write about pretty much what he wants but that he has to admit to a secret vice - he's always wanted to write "small existential novels!" He ...

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