Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Pg. 69: "Kockroach"

Tyler Knox's debut novel is Kockroach, "literary noir...[that] brilliantly turns Kafka's The Metamorphosis on its head."

I asked Tyler to apply the "page 69 test" to Kockroach. Here is what he reported:
Frank Conroy once said that the soul of a novel should be in every chapter and on every page, but then he also told me I shouldn't give up my day job, so the hell with him. Except I think he was probably right on both pieces of advice. Maybe the golden rule for writers should be: If the ghost of the book isn't on the page then the page shouldn't be in the book. Either that or: Don't drink decaf. One or the other.

Page 69 of Kockroach takes place in the middle of the 1950's, in the Times Square automat -- my favorite setting in the entire book -- and has all three of the book's main characters, so Frank would be happy. There's Mite, the tiny wannabe gangster; there's Celia the beautiful but crippled telephone operator; and there's Kockroach himself, a former cockroach still trying to adjust to life as a human. In the previous chapter Mite had given Kockroach a lighter and Kockroach had been the first cockroach to master fire, taking what the book describes as "the most stupendous leap forward ever in the bland, static, and yet oh-so-persistent history of his species."

So now, in the automat, Mite introduces Kockroach to Celia and Kockroach immediately wants to have sex with her. Why? Because he's a cockroach. So what does he do? He takes out his new lighter, of course, flicks it to life, and smiles. And Celia understands immediately what he is trying to do. "In the way he smiled and held himself, he seemed to be trying to impress her, as if he were some prehistoric man showing off to the females of his clan his ability to make fire."

The foreplay is obvious, and it is not so obvious that it won't lead to something else, until Mite reappears with a tray full of food and casts a disapproving eye. See Mite, despite his size and apparent lack of interest in sex, has a thing for Celia himself. And so, on that very page that outlines of the triangle that determines much of the course of the novel, begin to come clear.

A pretty damn good page, but not as good as page 70.
Many thanks to Tyler for the input.

Read an excerpt (and here's another excerpt) from Kockroach, and learn more about the "The Players" in the story.

Among the praise for Kockroach:
Kockroach, as Knox refers to his hero, is one of the oddest innocents ever to creep through American literature . . . The one sex scene is lifted straight from the Nature Channel, but in this context, it's hilarious. . . . Don't be squeamish; pick up this witty, unsettling book.
--Washington Post

An energetic tour de force that will delight lovers of experimental fiction, Kafka aficionados and fans of all things noir. . . . Lovers of tough-guy slang and neo-Raymond Chandler/James Cain dialogue will relish Mite's voice. . . . But the novel gets its originality, its humor and its kick from the way Knox applies Blatta's insect past to his human present. . . . Watching this cockroach in a beautifully tailored double-breasted suit rise to power first as a gangster, then as a businessman, is like A Bug's Life version of the Tony Soprano story. Inventively hilarious.
--USA Today

At the book’s core is a story of alienation: all of the narrators are, as Mite puts it, “lonely souls looking for comfort in a world what starts out cruel on the schoolyard and goes downhill from there.” . . . Knox has a light comic touch, and the story motors along. . . . In the end Knox has less in common with Kafka than with sharp young comic novelists . . . 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. . . . Our Library of Congress librarians have finally missed a trick: they should have assigned it not just “Cockroaches — Fiction” but “Satires of American Life — Fiction.”
--New York Times Book Review

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. . . suddenly Kafka vanishes and the novel takes on the contours of Dashiell Hammett's explosive Red Harvest.
--San Francisco Chronicle
Here's a reading group guide.

Previous "page 69 tests:"
Andrew Rehfeld, the Concept of Constituency
Laura Wiess, Such a Pretty Girl
Jeremy Blachman, Anonymous Lawyer
Andrew Pyper, The Wildfire Season
Wendy Werris, An Alphabetical Life
Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know
Meghan Daum, The Quality of Life Report
Scott Reynolds Nelson, Steel Drivin' Man
Richard Aleas, Little Girl Lost
Paul Collins, The Trouble With Tom
John McFetridge, Dirty Sweet
Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero
Bill Crider, Murder Among the OWLS
Zachary Shore, Breeding Bin Ladens
Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
Matt Haig, The Dead Fathers Club
Lawrence Light, Fear & Greed
Simon Read, In The Dark
Sandra Ruttan, Suspicious Circumstances
Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography
Alison Gaylin, You Kill Me
Gayle Lynds, The Last Spymaster
Jim Lehrer, The Phony Marine
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.
Debra Ginsberg, Blind Submission
Sarah Katherine Lewis, Indecent
Peter Orner, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo
William Easterly, The White Man's Burden
Danielle Trussoni, Falling Through the Earth
Andrew Blechman, Pigeons
Anne Perry, A Christmas Secret
Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue