Sunday, September 2, 2007


The Facts: Callisto (Torsten Kroll, 2007 Picador by Pan Macmillan Australia) rrp $32.95 Available everywhere


Torsten Krol, if he exists and isn't (as suspected) a pseudoym for some well-known author who is worried that writing something like this could be potentially damaging to his or her marketability in the US, lives in Queensland. This is his second book and if you can find out any more than that about him, you're a better Sunday morning researcher than I am.

Callisto is one of those books that currently seems to be near the front door of most bookshops, like they’re either trying to create a bestseller or just get rid of it. I picked it up because, well, bright colours and glossy covers appeal to that simple side of my brain.

When I started reading it, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Now that I’m done - I’m still wondering.

This is the story of Odell Deefus: a young, white, poor American male, on his way to join the army. He hasn’t got a high school diploma, but he’s pretty sure that won’t matter, because the army is desperate, what with the war killing off all their personnel and a general reluctance among would-be recruits to be next. On his way to his local recruiting centre, his car breaks down and he meets Dean Lowry, who puts him up for the night until he can get his truck fixed.

It’s an ill-fated meeting, with Dean ending up dead and Odell getting caught up in multiple terror plots, a little drug smuggling, murder and late-night TV Christianity.

On the surface, Callisto is just your typical wrong-place-wrong-time story, sitting somewhere in the genre intersection between small-town fish-out-of-water, crime and political thriller. Read a little deeper, however, and its loftier ambitions become apparent.

Callisto reminds me in some ways of Winston Groom’s Forrest Gump, in that it’s a story told through the eyes of a rather dim-witted soul who keeps getting caught up in quite remarkable events – thankfully, there’s not so much of the tweeness and no t-shirtable sayings. Krol has obviously given Odell’s ‘voice’ a lot of thought, and the result is convincing, without getting annoying. Odell isn’t particularly likeable, and I spent a lot of the book marveling at his stupidity, but ultimately you do feel for him and want him to get away – if only because he didn’t do anything (much).

This is actually quite a political book, and Krol finds ways to work in commentary on a gamut of issues – from homophobia and the church-state divide to the guilty-until-proven-innocent treatment of suspected terrorists, with many in between. It’s not always successful, but for the most part it is thought-provoking and the ‘message’ is pretty clear: something is rotten in the Untied States of America.

Callisto seems a little unsure of itself at times, like it can’t decide whether it wants to be pulp fiction or serious literature. Some of the ideas are a little clunky and the way all the loose ends tie up at the end is a little bit forced – as though Krol wrote himself into a corner and didn’t really know how to get himself out.

Ultimately, though, this is a fairly easy, if not always light, read. It’s a black comedy that just keeps getting blacker and that bad taste in your mouth through the last hundred or so pages – well, that’s kind of the point.


redcap said...

Chesty, great review! There's a lot of wrong place, wrong time terrorism lit around at the moment and it's fairly obvious they've taken their inspiration from David Hicks and other people shut up in Guantanamo Bay. Richard Flanagan's done it with The Accidental Terrorist and Janette Turner Hospital with Orpheus Lost. I wouldn't mind comparing the three, actually - and trying to find out who Torsten Krol is! Anonymous worked for the vastly overrated Nicki Gemmell for about two weeks, so I'm surprised that no-one has busted Torsten yet.

kiki said...

i think we need some kind of system where people get their revues up for at least a week (not one day) before someone else posts something...

if you check the 'edit posts' section, you'll see i've shotgunned next post (and penned in a date)

aside from that, this was a fabulou revue CL. similar to Redcap i find the 'wrong place wrong time' thing relevant / painful too.

Chesty LaRue said...

Redcap - Wow. What you don't know about literature isn't worth knowing. And thanks.

Kiki - Sorry, but when I posted this there was no shotgunned post. I noticed one yesterday afternoon when I was in my dashboard, but that was after I posted this. And besides, I think we're all intelligent enough to read beyond the first post.

And thanks - I didn't realise that TK was Australian (or somesuch) when I read this but now I do the Hicks thing definitely makes it seem more relevant.

kiki said...

nah nah, i wrote my post after you published this, no (blood) sweat (or tears)

Ariel said...

You may be on to something (from an o/s book news website):

An enigmatic and reclusive author, Torsten Krol, has just signed a substantial World rights two-book deal with Atlantic Books. Toby Mundy, the Publisher of Atlantic Books who acquired the novel from the New Zealand based agent, Michael Gifkins, comments: “The identity of Torsten Krol is shrouded in a mystery every bit as impenetrable as that surrounding J D Salinger or Thomas Pynchon. He will do no publicity. He lives as a recluse on the other side of the world, and communicates only through email. None of his publishers nor his literary agent have ever seen him or heard his voice. It is one of the strangest situations that I have ever been in. But the story telling is just so irresistibly accomplished, that I can’t help wondering if Krol has enjoyed an earlier career as a successful writer. I spent a lot of my time when reading the brilliant manuscripts, wondering just who on earth is Torsten Krol?”.

And yes, good review. I'm tempted to look it up now.

Ariel said...

Oh, and to weigh in on the posting frequency debate, I think it's great that there have been four postings in the last week. It makes the site more interesting, and means there's more to discuss. I think people will be put off from posting if they have to line up and stake their claim to one per week (I know I would) - it would easily mean you might have something you want to review/comment on and it will take a month before you can do so.

The more the merrier, I think! And yes, people can and will scroll. Part of the reason that the litblog sarsasparilla has been so successful is that there have been periods of prolific posting, making people keen to visit the site. Kiki, I think you should post yours now.

Of course, that's just my opinion. What do others think?

kiki said...

my review isn't as good as this, not all people would scroll, i think this review deserves as many readers as possible

redcap said...

chesty, sadly, what I don't know about lit would fill a number of large, heavy books. For instance, who is Torsten Krol?! ;)

As for posting frequency, the more the better, I say. It will give us a wider variety of topics for discussion. That way, if you're not up for talking about the definition of courage or why women writers are condemned to the chick lit pigeon hole, then you might be up for books set in Africa or talking about accidental terrorists. I'm absolutely loving the variety of reviews that people are posting. I wouldn't mind if we had two or three a day!

Chesty LaRue said...

Review comments adide (and thanks Kiki) - I'm in the more the merrier bandwagon. It's a shame blogger is set up the way it is in some ways and you do have scroll a long way to see further down.

That said, what I'm hoping this site brings about is robust and frequent discussion: and since no-one is always going to be interested in every book, having three or four or more discussions going on at once will keep things more lively.

Maybe some people won't scroll, but I think in general that if someone gets to the bottom of the first post and sees the title of the second and thinks 'hey, that looks interesting' they will probably read it and read the comments, and so on down the page. And I don't know about everyone else but once I get involved in a discussion I'll keep checking in to see what's going on no matter how far down the page it goes.

I think maybe though the exception is the book of the month selection and review/discussion - which I still think could be posted on top of but should get a link in the sidebar (like under the Mister Pip title/pic there could be a link to Rita's post about the October book, and when the review is done, a link to the discussion - so if they fall off the front page, people can still find them.


(will comment more on Callisto later ...)

redcap said...

Hear hear for robust disfussion! That sounds like a good plan of attack, chesty. In the meantime, I can always set things up so more posts are displayed on the screen at once. Perhaps we could also start classifying books in their genres the labels, as much as that's possible? You know, thriller, light read, crime, comedy, quality lit, classic, twaddle, etc. and displaying those on the sidebar?

Rita said...

Sounds eminently sensible to me too, chesty.
I'm there as well. The more parallel discussion, the more variety for all.

actonb said...

Great revue Chesty... I'm so glad that there is now a source (other than Spectrum) for me to glean reading materials. Seeing as I very rarely venture into bookshops, it's fab to find out what's Out There. Other than Torsten Krol of course...

The Blakkat said...

I'm loving the reviews and the selection of books that have been thrown out there. Callisto looks like an interesting read, Chesty, and probably not one I would have picked up on my own accord, and that is why this site is already working. I check out every new post there is, regardless if it's first or not. If you post it, I'll read it. My only gripe is that I'm too scared to post a review of my own now because of the high standard that's been set! Keep it up book lovers! I think labels as to book catergories is a good idea, too, Redcap.