Book Review: Grave Robbing Gets Macabre in ‘Rotters’

Arriving at book stores earlier this month was Daniel Kraus’ “Rotters”, a macabre tale that BD’s Ryan Daley fell in love with.

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.

Inside you’ll find Daley’s raving review.
Don’t look at the name, my father said, and I listened. It’s not a person, he insisted, it is meat spoiling inside a box. He ran his hands over the plot as if feeling for a pulse.

As young adult horror fiction has undergone its recent Twilight-ification into sooper-gooey love-triangle chick-lit, it’s understandable for the dudes to feel left out of the equation. Even the Hunger Games series–initially an ultra-violent tale of raw human survival–regressed into a foo-foo mess of girly quandaries. With the inevitable “Team Peeta/Team Gale” movie campaign to follow, we’re a long way from the glory days of Goosebumps, my friends. Which is why Daniel Kraus’ boy-centric Rotters, a gleefully grisly coming-of-age story, is such a welcome addition to the YA horror library.

After his mom is creamed by a bus, 16-year-old Joey Crouch is sent to Iowa to live with his estranged father. Spending his nights in a squalid cabin and his days being bullied at school, it’s a less than ideal situation for Joey. His secretive father is absent for days at a time, and on the occasions he makes it home–caked in dirt and smelling like rot–he ignores Joey completely. Despite his lack of official employment, Joey’s dad is known around town as the “garbage man”, and Joey is understandably ashamed.

Desperate to unlock his father`s secret, Joey hides in the bed of the pick-up truck one night. He’s jounced and jostled as his father navigates the truck down rough country roads, but finally the truck comes to a stop. His father takes a bag of supplies and is gone for a few hours. Upon his return, Joey emerges from the bed of the pick-up truck and snaps a flash photo:

Everything was illuminated in one instant of motionless clarity: individual blades of tall grass, bugs caught in the air like thrown pebbles, the mirrored surface of the truck, my father, his stunned expression, the handheld wire cutter, the sparkle of multiple jeweled rings, and, clenched in my father’s fist, wearing these rings, a severed human hand.

And that’s the moment that Kraus’ tale really kicks into gear. Joey’s father is an expert grave robber,
a member of a secret sect known as “The Diggers”, and Joey is eager to learn the trade.

Kraus writing is smart–never cute or condescending–and he adds authenticity by name-dropping the corpse-stealing practices of historical figures like Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo. From the dark descriptions of grave-robbing to the almost-too-accurate bully dialogue, Kraus has crafted an enjoyably morbid read, a literary horror novel rooted in the real. This guy can seriously write. It’s as good as Joe R. Lansdale’s The Bottoms–another excellent entry in the YA horror canon–if not better. The plot developments are revealed deliberately, at their own pace, but the pleasure lies in soaking up the vivid details.

4.5/5 Skulls