three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
27-Mar-Apr-2007
By: 
Tyler Knox
user_rating: 
0

A-KockroachUpending Franz Kafka’s famous story about Gregor Samsa’s transformation into an insect, Kockroach tells the tale of Jerry Blatta. Formerly a faceless member of New York City’s cockroach population, Blatta wakes up in a seedy Times Square hotel to find that he has metamorphosed into a man. With the aid of Mickey "Mite" Pimelia, a diminutive crook, he adjusts to life on two legs, dons a suit and wing tips, becomes a gangster, and soon hustles up the ladder of success in mid-20th-century Manhattan. Though Blatta proves himself to be a survivor in this comic noir novel, he still can’t let go of his fear that, someday, he’ll be squashed underfoot.
William Morrow. 368 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0061143332

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Literary fiction is not often this wildly fun. … Knox shifts voices and perspective, from hard-boiled to modern-hip, dropping allusions to people as varied as Richard Nixon and the Ramones. You can tell when an author is having a good time, and Knox has a ball. " Mark Lindquist

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"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." Deirdre Donahue

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Kockroach, as Knox refers to his hero, is one of the oddest innocents ever to creep through American literature, but his coping follows the usual course: helping us see the strangeness of ordinary life by looking at it with fresh eyes (though now he's limited to two lenses, instead of 4,000)." Ron Charles

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Kockroach actually is neither seriously intentioned enough to be literary nor dark enough for true noir. Instead, it is a light pastiche, a tongue-in-cheek borrowing from so many sources that the result is a level of self-conscious singularity almost despite itself." John Gamino

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"In the end Knox has less in common with Kafka than with sharp young comic novelists like Chris Bachelder and Lydia Millet who work in the wide shadow of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, George Saunders’s stories and ‘The Simpsons.’ They write fluid, fast prose and strive to capture the sheer absurdity of ordinary American life in Technicolor plots and high-concept conceits." Matt Weiland

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"This book has a heavy-handed gimmick to overcome—namely, the inversion of Kafka's conceit—and it does manage to do so. The problems are elsewhere—chiefly, that Kockroach/Blatta is a blank, with no personality or emotional depth, which makes his evolution difficult to care about." Benjamin Weissman

Critical Summary

Tyler Knox (a pseudonym for crime novelist William Lashner) creates something wholly original from a wide range of sources: Kafka’s famous short story, Jerzy Kosinzky’s Being There, the acclaimed 1970s film Midnight Cowboy, and a heavy dose of entomological research. What could have simply been a clever idea becomes a thoughtful, humorous inquiry into the adaptability of cockroaches and people. A few critics find some inconsistency in characterization, specifically with Mikey "Mite," as well as anachronisms in a book set in the 1950s. Otherwise they are won over by this clever novel in which intelligence and emotion trump mere cleverness.