[Book Review] The Unknown Knowns by Jeffrey Rotter

Jim Rath’s wife has grown tired of his hobbies: his immaculately maintained comics collection, his creepy underwater experiments, and his dreams of building a museum based on the Aquatic Ape Theory of Human Evolution. On the night that she leaves him, Jim thinks he has spotted an emissary from a lost aquatic race called the Nautikons. In truth, the man is a low-level agent of the Department of Homeland Security. What follows is a riveting story of two quixotic men who stalk each other toward a bloody showdown—a spectacularly moronic act of terrorism at an aging water park.

Jim Rath is obsessed with a lost aquatic race called the Nautikons. He enjoys visiting a local hotel pool where he floats submerged in the water, with only the top of the snorkel peaking out, daydreaming about the Nautikons. One day, Jim spots a man he is certain is a Nautikon in disguise, and he follows the man to several hotels in pursuit of evidence to prove his theory of the existence of this aquatic race.

The Unknown Knows has a comic book lore feel to it, especially in the sections on the history of the Nautikons. There are three different chapter types: a narrative from Jim’s perspective, court transcripts of the “potential” Nautikon man’s retelling of what happened, and history lessons on the lore of the Nautikons. Jim’s sections and the transcripts were rather entertaining; however, the sections about the Nautikon were a big drag to slog through. I thought they would be entertaining, but the narrative is so filled with gratuitous descriptions of underwater scenery that it’s hard to follow. What’s worse is that despite all the descriptions, I still had trouble picturing the Nautikons and their underwater buildings.

This book has an interesting concept at its core, but the execution fell short for me. The book seemed to lose a lot of momentum after the first hundred pages or so, and the exciting events lost their impact because each event was described twice over–once from Jim’s perspective and once in the court transcript.

There were various instances of humor throughout the book, but I think a lot of it went over my head. I didn’t understand why so much of the book was devoted to Jim’s relationship with his wife. They seemed very distance towards each other, and I couldn’t emotionally connect to her character since every detail about her was delivered via Jim. I understood her behavior from a third party perspective yet I also found myself unable to care about their disintegrating relationship, or whether he was right and Nautikon really do exist.

Jim seems like he would be a pain to be around in reality. He’s delusional and perpetually stuck in a child’s imaginary world. He’s socially awkward in a bad way (the type who would stare at you for ages without speaking, then turn and walk away), and his obsessions cloud his perception of reality to the point where you would need to monitor him for safety reasons.

I wish I’d enjoyed this book, since the elevator pitch version still sounds intriguing. Overall, though, it was a disappointment.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

PUBLICATION DEETS: Scribner, January 1, 2009, 258 pages

CATEGORIES: general fiction, humor

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