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"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found
himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect." You
probably recognize this as the opening line to Franz Kafka's
classic novella "The Metamorphosis." Of course you do --- pretty
much everyone knows (or at least knows of) the story of Gregor
Samsa's unfortunate transformation into a cockroach. Apparently,
Tyler Knox also knows Kafka's tale well --- well enough to start
his debut novel, KOCKROACH, with the following sentence: "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."

What kind of "large, vile creature," you may ask, could a cockroach
possibly turn into? Why, a human of course. Kockroach, assuming
he's undergone some horrific kind of molting, soon sets about
exploring the peculiarities of his new human body and his new
environment. From the seedy hotel room where he awakens, Kockroach
ventures out into the almost painful brightness of Times Square.
This Times Square is not the tourist playground of today --- this
is the 1950s, when it was a haven for gamblers, gangsters,
prostitutes, drug dealers and the small-time hustlers who served
them all.

One of these con men is a petty criminal named Mite. When Mite and
Kockroach have a chance meeting, neither one of their lives will
ever be the same. Mite gives Kockroach a human name (Jerry Blatta)
and soon enlists him on an errand --- retrieving some money from a
deadbeat. When Kockroach proves more than adept at playing the
heavy (he breaks the offender's arm without hesitation), Mite
quickly attaches himself to Kockroach as the mysterious newcomer
rises to the top of the Times Square crime scene. But the pair's
uneasy partnership is as driven by competition as it is by loyalty,
and soon their mutual acts of betrayal may blow everything up in
their faces.

As Mite recognizes, Kockroach, with his utter amorality and his
recognition of only two emotional states --- fear and greed ---
proves startlingly adept at obtaining, and wielding, power. While
still maintaining (sometimes in particularly gruesome and graphic
fashion) certain cockroach attributes, Kockroach quickly and
brutally rises through the ranks of organized crime, business, and
finally (no surprise here) politics, all without moral qualms or
even passing regrets. As Kockroach ascends to power, Knox poses
some intriguing questions about what kind of person --- or insect?-
--- it takes to be successful in America, all couched within a noir
motif that's worthy of James Ellroy and Raymond Chandler.

Kockroach's story is told by three different narrators. First,
there's Kockroach himself, whose combination of naivete and clear
disdain for the human species makes him an oddly appealing
antihero. Then there's Mite, the insecure opportunist who teaches
Kockroach to see past the present and whose narration is riddled
with slang. Finally, there's Celia, the polio-crippled beauty whom
both men love, at least as much as either one is capable of
experiencing that emotion. Together, the three construct a
narrative that goes far beyond pastiche and marks Tyler Knox as a
first-time novelist to watch.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl. on January 7, 2011

by Tyler Knox

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0061143332
  • ISBN-13: 9780061143335