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Stranger Will Hardcover – March 13, 2011
The Amazon Book Review
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"This is an original--unlike anything you've ever read before." -Rob Roberge, author of More Than They Could Chew and Drive
"Stranger Will is a nightmare landscape littered with the carcasses of fatherhood and various social mores. This is one paranoid, challenging, beautiful, and pitch-dark book. I'm a little afraid of this Ross guy now; but I'll also read anything he writes."-Paul Tremblay, author of The Little Sleep and In The Mean Time
"Just like a Palahniuk novel, Stranger Will reads volatile: it could go any way. Caleb J. Ross leads you with a wry smile into dark places, but by the time you realize it's too late. You will follow him anywhere." -Alan Emmins, author of Mop Men: Inside the World of Crime Scene Cleaners
"Caleb J. Ross is a dangerous writer...you are letting Caleb J. Ross into your mind at your own risk." -Jeremy Robert Johnson, author of Angel Dust Apocalypse and Extinction Journals
"More nihilistic than a chainsaw-wielding midget who wants to be the tallest man on Earth." -Bradley Sands, author of Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy and editor of Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens
About the Author
Caleb J. Ross has a BA in English Literature and creative writing from Emporia State University. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared widely, both online and in print. He is the author of Charactered Pieces: stories (OW Press), Stranger Will: a novel (Otherworld Publications, 2011), I Didn't Mean to Be Kevin: a novel (Black Coffee Press, 2011), and As a Machine and Parts (Aqueous books, 20-). He is an editor at Outsider Writers Collective and moderates The Velvet Podcast, which gathers writers for round table discussions on literature. Visit his official page at calebjross.com, his Twitter feed at @calebjross, and his Facebook at facebook.com/rosscaleb.
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Top Customer Reviews
Let's get the boring, nitpicky stuff out of the way -- as usual. Typos, which seemed to get worse as the book went along. Everything from misspellings to what seem to be misused words. Why?? I expect this in a goodreads win -- because they're most likely sending out proofs rather than finished editions -- but this wasn't a win, I bought this on Amazon, so I expect the quality to compare to any other book I'd pick up in a store. This kind of sloppiness just doesn't make me a fan.
Now that's out of the way . . .
This is a very interesting story. William and Julie are expecting their first child -- a child William is determined not to have. He works with heavy duty chemicals as a "human remains removal specialist", and fears the damage the chemicals may have already done to the unborn baby. In his endeavor to be rid of the child, he is helped by the mysterious Mrs. Rose.
This idea was so compelling to me that I had Amazon overnight a copy when I couldn't find it locally -- something I almost never do. I'm just too cheap to pay for that kind of postage, but I just had to read it as soon as possible.
Was it worth it?
I don't know. I found the characters and their lives grotesque and unlikable. Even Julie, who -- as a mom -- I felt I should have been most sympathetic to. They're all so mired in these ridiculously pointless lives, it's difficult to empathize with them. On the other hand, has any parent escaped having an instant (or more) of doubt and fear when faced with the reality of having children? It's such a huge responsibility, one I know I felt vastly unprepared for. So it wasn't like I couldn't understand William's reluctance to accept this new role.
I also found William's solution to his "problem" truly horrific -- even thinking about it now makes me feel upset, even nauseated.
I think I was looking for a different story, one in which William and Julie have their doubts -- about parenthood and about each other -- but work their way through the problems to reach a new point in their lives. This is NOT that story.
I didn't really understand what Mrs. Rose was striving to attain, or why so many people were willing to help her. I didn't understand William's passivity throughout the story. In the end, I did sympathize just a bit with Julie, but not enough that I ended up liking her.
Having said all that, though, I can't give this book only 1 star. I didn't like it, but that doesn't make it a bad book -- I think my reaction to it is indicative of how it challenged my values and my beliefs. The ideas presented would probably rate 4 stars -- they really are that intriguing.
So I guess I'll split the difference and give it 3 stars, subject to change as I ponder this book in the coming weeks.
Stranger Will begins as something of a dark comedy. A reluctant father, trying to convince his fiancé to not carry the baby to term, or at least give it up after the fact, crudely makes jokes comparing the child to a tapeworm he once had, curiously named Paul. Will's chiding of Julie at first evokes chuckles and sighs for both their perversion and truisms but, counter to one's expectations of a leading figure in a novel, the jokes do not hide a nervous-yet-well-meaning-heart, rather something more pessimistic and Nietzsche-esque.
As the novel continues, the plot gets increasingly dark and starkly less comedy and Ross's writing all the more pointed. It reads like a nightmare you wake up from in the middle of the night and spend the next day wondering how much of it was real. The twists are shocking and terrifying, but somehow founded in reason and not entirely unbelievable.
Importantly, the entire time Ross is grossing his readers out with scenes like a game of catch played with a dead raccoon, and very authoritative (note, not "know-it-all") descriptions of body remnants and the chemicals needed to clean them, he is also writing really well. Conversations are small but effective with regionally flavored bits of speech such as
"I remember a fireworks show a couple years ago around there. Got a niece that lives in the area. If it's the right area, I mean,"
which might have been glossed by a lesser writer. In a scene at the bedside of an ill loved one, Ross deftly reveals Will's inner-workings writing,
"he can't help but take notice of the way he breathes so easily, of his lungs pumping air unaided into a body strong enough to stand on its own,"
in a pointedly remorseful juxtaposition that helps his character come out as more than just a grossly sarcastic father-to-be but several tons more human.
As proven by his short stories in Charactered Pieces (Outside Writers 2009) Ross has a forte for metaphor, and as Stranger Will meanders through the increasingly dark life of Will a portrait of the human life cycle emerges. From birth, to education, the desire and inevitable failure to fit in, the building and destroying of relationships, past times, hobbies and paradigms; a few strange weeks in the life of Ross's Will tell the tale of getting through those times in our lives where we seem the strangest, not to others, but to ourselves.
Charles Bukowski dedicated the thinly fictionalized account of his young life, Ham on Rye, with the words "for all the fathers" as the simultaneous threat, fear, blame and praise a delinquent child squares on his father. Such a dedication would be fitting for Caleb J. Ross's Stranger Will.
This review originally appeared in Cannoli Pie Magazine. It is used with permission and is the property of the editors.
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