Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review: Dr. Rat

Dr. Rat by William Kotzwinkle

While on vacation last week, I took one book and a handful of comics and graphic novels with me, thinking I would do lots of reading on the plane and while chillin' at my folks house. After browsing a few of the comics on the flight there, I picked up the one book I had brought along. From page one Dr. Rat had me in its grips.

Dr. Rat is a tough book to describe. There is a lot of stuff going on and its pacing is frantic at it's slowest moments. Initially, the novel takes place in a university research lab, and is narrated by a veteran lab rat who calls himself Dr. Rat. Thanks to numerous experiments, Dr. Rat is completely nuts. Dr. Rat, a supporter of all things testing lab related, finds himself pitted against the other lab animals who start a rebellion. While this takes place in the lab, Kotzwinkle cuts to a plethora of outside events happening simultaneously at various locations in the animal kingdom.

Dr. Rat is a versatile book. Kotzwinkle manages to make it hilarious, sad, terrifying, disgusting and touching at various points, and I thought the novel was masterfully crafted. Kotzwinkle writes short, sharp chapters, and this really makes the pace flow. The fact that he skipped back and forth between the lab and the outside world didn't slow things down for me either. Some chapters left me shaking my head, amazed at how well-crafted they were.

Dr. Rat is one of those books that has a lot to say if you read between the lines. I thought the novel provided some very interesting insight on how humans coexist (or lack there of) with the natural environment, particularly animals. If you don't already hate the concept of zoos, this book should make you hate them. Not to mention labs which utilize animal testing.

Not that I'm big on books that win awards, but Dr. Rat won the World Fantasy Award way back in 1977. Nothing about the book feels dated though, and the distance of time has done nothing to dull this novel's impact. Dr. Rat delivers on all levels and I give it my full recommendation. Fans of anthropomorphic books such as Watership Down and Animal Farm should give this one a go.

Grade: B+

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