Spaid’s debut novel delivers a bizarre, entrancing collection of anecdotes about a man who’s inappropriately interested in his neighbors.
The novel’s narrator tells the story of the people who live next door to him, a typical family of four with unusual private habits: Jim, who lives his life vicariously through ridiculous stories of his youthful travel exploits; Olga, his wife, who sunbathes naked in the backyard, observed by the narrator; and their two children, who each have secrets. Readers learn relatively little about the narrator himself, aside from his former job as a teacher and his creative, infuriating efforts to have his essays accepted in major periodicals. However, he tells a strange series of stories about a character named Rat and his ne’er-do-well companion, a tiny cat in Wellington boots named Roquefort, aka Roquy. Rat appears to be a figment of the narrator’s imagination—a hallucination, or perhaps the primal form of Jim or the narrator himself, creating mischief and seeking revenge on those he believes have wronged him. Sometimes he’s an actual rat, sometimes he’s human-sized; at one point, Jim envisions Rat with an Elizabethan ruff, as if he were William Shakespeare. In one adventure, Rat, after being ejected from a restaurant, hides himself in a birthday party dish at said eatery; in another, he and Roquy terrorize—and amuse—a group of bus travelers. Meanwhile, part of Britain has detached and is floating in the ocean, providing a peculiar, apocalyptic backdrop to the proceedings. Spaid’s prose is strong and smart, and the book’s realistic but jarring and abrupt ending, midphrase, may cause some readers to toss the book aside, but others may begin again to try to unravel this offbeat satire.
An eccentric novel with a magnetic stream-of-consciousness narrative.