Reading guide for Kockroach by Tyler Knox

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Kockroach

A Novel

by Tyler Knox

Kockroach
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2006, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2008, 368 pages

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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, transformed into a cockroach. The word he uses is akin to vermin, and a cleaning woman late into the story refers to Gregor as a dung beetle. Why then, in this twist on Kafka, did the author make Kockroach a cockroach? How would Kockroach fare in the human world if he metamorphosized from a cat? A dog? A spider? A hyena?
  4. At one point, Mite has the realization that by bringing Kockroach to Abagados and the world of organized crime, he is responsible for Kockroach becoming a murderous criminal. Is Mite correct, did he mold Kockroach, or is Kockroach’s entry into crime and violence an inevitable result of his cockroach character?
  5. Kockroach comes to a realization about the limits of violence in the human world. Is he right? If so, why haven’t humans learned the same lesson?
  6. Kockroach finds his basic arthropodal nature suffering a number of corruptions as he travels through the human world: his taste for meat, his use of language, the buzzing nuisance of thought, his desire to continue a relationship even after the sex. Are these corruptions evidence of Kockroach becoming more human, and even more humane, or are these simply adaptations that allow Kockroach to impose his will upon a corrupted world?
  7. Kockroach has no prejudice – he reviles all humans equally – holds no grudges, is generous and loyal to his friends while ravaging his enemies, harnesses his talents to his great ambitions, and achieves almost everything he sets out to achieve. Is it far off the mark to call him a classic role model?
  8. The humans have different names for Kockroach -- Jerry and Jerzy and Blatta and Boss – but in the chapters told from Kockroach’s point of view, he is always referred to as Kockroach. Why do you think the author makes this choice?
  9. Mite says the bright line in his life demarking before and after is the moment of his mother’s first epileptic fit. Is he right? What effect did Old Dudley have on his character? Or Celia, or Champ or Kockroach himself?
  10. Mite suffers from chronic existential angst, Kockroach knows no angst, yet together they make a formidable team. Why do they work so well together? How do they compare to classic American comedy duos like Laurel and Hardy, Lewis and Martin, or Haldeman and Erlichman?
  11. Mite and Kockroach are two entirely different beings, and yet both are drawn to Celia. What is it about Celia that attracts each of them?
  12. Mite’s view of Celia is very different than Celia’s view of herself. Who is ultimately right? What are some of the moments in the story where Celia’s inner nature is revealed to Mite if only he would pay attention?
  13. Celia’s choices all through the book seem to be driven by her feelings for Kockroach. She eventually abandons a life that fulfilled all her mother’s hopes for her, and instead creates a life for herself within Kockroach’s world. Is she being true to herself, or is she just another human whose will is bent by Kockroach for his own purposes? Did she make a good trade?
  14. Kockroach has a strange paternalistic relationship to the women in his life, even as he mercilessly puts them to work for him. How would you describe these relationships and why do they work so well for him? As he moves from Sylvie to Celia to Cassandra to Glenda, how do these relationships change?
  15. Kockroach says of the human world that it makes perfect sense to him. “You see what you want and you take it. Others try to take it for themselves. Whoever is stronger wins. What does not make sense?” How would he have described the rules of the world if he was transformed into someone like Kafka when he wrote his story, an alienated Jewish intellectual living in Prague in 1915?
  16. What makes this an American story?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Harper Perennial. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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