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Reviewed by Natasha Jackson for Readers' Favorite
Lobster Boy is the story of the life and death of Grady Stiles, Jr., known to carnival lovers and carny folks alike as Lobster Boy. On a warm night in 1992, a trailer park in Gibsonton was the scene of an execution. Stiles had taken several bullets to the head and Fred Rosen’s account of his life and death begins with his death and the subsequent investigation while providing an in-depth look into the life of Lobster Boy. Born with a severe deformity that fused his fingers and toes into claws, it is easy to see how easy Grady was to exploit, if that were the case. The question then becomes, was Grady Stiles, Jr. a victim of cruel circumstances or was he a manipulative and cruel man hiding behind his handicap?
Fred Rosen has gone to great lengths to provide as clear a picture as possible when writing about Lobster Boy. He interviewed nearly all of the parties involved to give us a snapshot of Grady Stiles, Jr. as a person as well as the carny celebrity. At times you feel deep sympathy for what it must have been like to grow up in the 1940s with such a severe deformity, but at others you simply see a flawed man who is unnecessarily cruel. The story of Lobster Boy’s life and death is immensely interesting. He was an abusive man who tormented those close to him, leaving his wife so fearful that she was part of a conspiracy to kill him. Throughout the trials we get to see Stiles from other people’s perspective, at times even the author’s. Overall, Lobster Boy was a riveting read giving a glimpse inside the small town where carny folk gather for the off-season.