The Unknown Knowns

A Novel

The Unknown Knowns

Jeffrey Rotter’s "brilliantly comic" debut novel has "earned him every kind of comparison—Kaufmanesque, Vonnegutesque, Pynchonesque" (New Statesman, U.K.).

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 government inspector—a man harboring his own strange fantasies. What follows is a riveting story of two delusional and quixotic men who stalk each other toward a bloody showdown—a spectacularly moronic act at an aging water park. In The Unknown Knowns, Jeffrey Rotter takes everyday domestic fixations and turns them into a stunning portrayal of the human condition.
  • Scribner | 
  • 272 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416587033 | 
  • March 2010
List Price $17.99 (price may vary by retailer)
In Stock: Usually ships within 1 business day
Buy from another retailer


Reading Group Guide


Jim Rath has a dream: to open a museum based on the Aquatic Ape Theory of human evolution. As he becomes more and more obsessed with the museum and with conducting his strange underwater experiments (standing submerged in a hotel pool for hours), his fractured marriage reaches the breaking point.

On the night his wife walks out, Jim seeks solace in a bar—where he spots a man he believes is an emissary from the Nautikons, a lost aquatic race, but who is actually a low-level agent for the Department of Homeland Security. This chance encounter sets in motion a game of cat-and-mouse between two delusional and quixotic men that leads to a tragic confrontation…and begins a countdown to what could be Jim’s last days as a free man.

From its satiric depiction of the state of our national security to its portrayal of a hapless man whose peculiar yet harmless fixation becomes his undoing, The Unknown Knowns is a darkly comic send-up of post-9/11 America.


Discussion Questions

1. What political and social commentary is the author making in the novel? How about regarding the Department of Homeland Security in particular? What is your opinion of how he presents the department, as well as the U. S. Congress?

2. At the beginning of the story, Jim asserts that “the curve of credibility doesn’t get see more

About the Author

Jeffrey Rotter
Photo Credit: John von Pamer

Jeffrey Rotter

Jeffrey Rotter holds an MFA from Hunter College where he studied under Peter Carey, Colson Whitehead, Colum McCann, and Andrew Sean Greer and was awarded the Hertog fellowship to perform research for Jennifer Egan. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and young son. The Unknown Knowns is his first novel.


Related Websites