Daniel Evan Weiss, author of The Roaches Have No King, could have picked virtually any restaurant in which to talk about his just-published novel, which is narrated by a cockroach and set in a roach-infested Manhattan apartment. He chose a bustling New York City diner.
”This is the roach equivalent of the Algonquin roundtable,” Weiss quips, as a tiny ”instar”-a roach still in the early growth stages-investigates Weiss’ yellow plastic water glass. A nearly lifelong New Yorker, Weiss employs the native’s bare-handed, one-finger squash-and-dispose technique. At home, however, he prefers boric acid. ”They can’t adapt to it,” says the 40-year-old Upper West Sider.
Weiss knows all about roaches. His novel, which The New York Times Book Review recently praised as ”an appealing, often mordant satire about the urban condition,” describes life among a particularly well-read colony of Blattella germanica. The narrator, named Numbers, spent his first days eating through the Bible. Among his brethren is Columbo, who came of age inside the Columbia Encyclopedia. For his part, Weiss devoured books on roach biology while writing the novel. His research came in handy for the roach sex scenes, which involve a hefty supply of pheromones and foolproof, interlocking parts. ”There’s no romance,” says Weiss, ”so there are no broken hearts.”
The author had less sympathy for his human subjects. Every person of every racial and ethnic stripe is skewered according to his or her group’s worst stereotypes (which Weiss claims is partially why The Roaches Have No King — published four years ago in England — took so long to find a U.S. publisher). ”I tried to write it as a roach would write it,” he explains. ”These things leaped right out.”