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.