A Review of Wrath by Shäron Moalem and Daniel Kraus
Published October 11, 2022 by Union Square & Co.
Wrath is an extremely smart and fast-paced horror thriller from Shäron Moalem and Daniel Kraus. Given my enjoyment of Kraus’ past works, I was excited to see where Moalem and Kraus would collaborate to take the topic of hyperintelligent rats and the humans who created them. Daniel Kraus is no stranger to collaborations, as he has worked with the George A. Romero Foundation to complete Romero’s The Living Dead after the legendary director passed away. Kraus, who also co-authored Trollhunters and The Shape of Water with Guillermo del Toro, brings his A-game to the book’s scarier scenes and shows with this book that he can consistently write some of the best horror presently found on bookstore shelves. Shäron Moalem is not only a New York Times best-selling author in his own right, but is also an award-winning scientist and physician who has co-founded three biotechnology companies. Given the premise of hyperintelligent rats, Moalem’s science background helps ground the book as a smart page-turner. The two writers have created a great horror read, but also have the science down so solid it can be passed along to fans of the medical and techno-thriller genres.
To address an upfront trigger warning, Wrath deals with animal lab experiments. The scenes that I found the most disturbing were the experiments by EditedPets, a company which modifies animals to create the next level of interactive pets. EditedPets treats the rollout of new enhanced animals like products and not living creatures, similar to new versions of a cellular phone. As a home provider to rescue pets, I found how the book deals with the consumer mindset of pet owners and boredom of old pets when a new trending pet is released by EditedPets as a way of exploring humanity at our most desensitized. Wrath is to pets what Romero was warning us about consumerism in Dawn of the Dead, with zombies mindlessly shuffling around the mall.
Humans being desensitized is at the heart of Wrath. EditedPets is a toxic work environment, as the company is siloed and has no transparency. Tech entrepreneur Noah Goff’s work environment has employees forgetting what it means to be human, as the only life they have is being on call for him 24/7. Goff pushes the staff to meet the deadlines of a Pet Expo, and a lack of cross-communication between departments and poor work/life balance for employees leads to rats being overexposed in an experiment designed to increase their intelligence. Goff’s lack of safeguards causes one rat in particular to become incredibly intelligent. This rat, Sammy, brings about some of the best and most terrifying scenes in Wrath.
The book is also about the evolution of skills instead of a push for profit. Wrath doesn’t just focus on Sammy as the human gene splicing makes him more intelligent and he develops more and more skills to turn New York City into a state of chaos, it also focuses on the human gatekeepers who are trying to save the city. Scientist Sienna Aguirre slowly breaks out of Noah Goff’s grasp to fall back on the life lessons she learned from her father and starts working with exterminator Prez. Prez is an old school exterminator, trained by his adoptive father, and the first to leave Goff’s employment and start to fall back on what he knows is right instead of chasing the easy profits of EditedPets. And even Dallas, a bullied grade school boy who befriends Sammy, taps into the tutelage of riding the NYC subway with his train operator mother, to save a train full of people when the rats invade.
Wrath teaches us that one can gnaw their way to the top in nature or in business but can just as easily be disposed of when they no longer serve a purpose. The through line for survival in Wrath is being altruistic. The characters who put others over their own safety and don’t take the shortcuts to saving the city are doing more than helping the people in harm’s way, they are teaching Sammy what the human spirit is beyond what he knew from the scientists in the lab. As Sienna learned from her father, “genius only gets you so far. Sometimes all that works is your nose against the grindstone.” Showing up, taking care of others, and getting the job done is what it means to be human at the end of Wrath, and it turns out that even a rat can learn that lesson.