In a nutshell: A delightfully delicious satirical romp around the US hinterland where nationwide paranoia about the threat of terrorism is very much alive and ticking! Callisto truly is a pleasure to read, not least because contained in its chief protagonist, Odell Deefus, is one of modern literature’s most memorable and endearing characters. Read it! You’ll love it!
Well I’m done and dusted with the mysterious Mr. Krol’s Callisto, and it’s time to offer up my afterthoughts on what I thought of the novel. I’ll start by saying that I found it to be quite the enjoyable read. Definitely one that met my expectations and one that raised more than the odd chuckle, which for a grumpy guy like me is really saying something )
The aims of Callisto, as noted in my ‘forethought’s for the novel, are of course purely satirical. The novel plays on the exaggeration (or does it? )) of the US’s post-9/11 paranoia about homeland terrorism, and there’s an underlying sense when reading Callisto that no crime is as important as a crime that ‘smells’ (no matter how minutely) of terrorism, or more particularly – ‘terrorist plot’. I guess you could say that Callisto promotes an ethos of ‘terrorist until proven innocent’, albeit in its satirically humourous way, and it uses a well-engineered plot to wholly support that ethos.
I’ll say it a bit clearer – Callisto’s plot is good un! It moves along at a decent pace and it throws in enough ‘curve balls’ to keep the reader on his/her toes, and to keep him/her guessing what’s coming next. There’s no point trying to predict where the story’s going in Callisto because one simply isn’t going to work it out. However bits of the plot one will predict, because the author likes to play with the fact that the main character Odell isn’t the sharpest tool in the box, and and he emphasises this by throwing in a few ‘easy to work out where this is going unless your Deefus’ story nuggets. Aside from these though, everything else in Callisto will I’m sure come unexpectedly.
If Callisto’s plot is good then it’s main character is truly awesome. That’s right I’m talking about Odell Deefus here, the undisputed ‘star of the show’, and oh boy what a star! If you remember in my forethoughts I mentioned that Harper Perennial promoted Odell to me as being a bit like Forrest Gump? Well for me Odell Deefus goes way past this. Don’t get me wrong I really like Winston Groom’s Forrest (and even more so after seeing Tom Hanks’ portrayal of him), but I was never so endeared to him as I am towards Odell. This guy is just so lovable on every level (even if he does end up with a bit of blood on his hands), and I think that’s mostly down to the perfectly engineered ‘voice’ that author Krol has created for him. And as Callisto is told entirely from the first-person perspective of Odell, it’s a voice one ‘hears’ telling the entire story, and it’s a voice which bathes the reader in a charismatic warmth.
Odell’s ‘voice’ isn’t the only ‘weapon of charisma’ to be wielded by the character, and his ‘lovability’ is further instilled through his endearing powers of reasoning. Odell certainly has whispers of Forrest Gump in his reasoning (I can see why Harper P. liken Odell to him), but there are also ‘whispers’ of Steinbeck’s Lennie from Of Mice and Men, and the autistic Christopher from Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time too. However Odell is far from downright dumb (he’s actually quite a cunning liar), and he’s certainly not autistic, but he does have the same ‘charismatic draw’ stemming from his powers of reasoning. It’s subtle little things too such as craving breakfast after a horrifying discovery, liking a particular ring-tone aside from the fact it calls him stupid, and deciding to ignore the speedy instructions of a salesman because “the instruction manual will tell me everything the salesman is saying, only slower” Funny stuff and you’ll find it on almost every page!
As good as the overall plot for Callisto is though, and as great as the main character is too, I do think that it fail in one respect (hence the score of only 4 stars instead of a perfect 5), and that’s in a feeling that everything else about the novel i.e. the other characters and the settings etc, seems a bit two-dimensional; a bit flat. Don’t get me wrong, these elements are adequate enough to perform in their role in support of the story and of the main character, but that’s as deep as they go. These elements seem to me as though they have no real life or existence of their own, very much in the same vein as ‘if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there, does it make a sound?’ i.e. if Odell isn’t in town or talking to a particular character. does the town or that character carry on existing? A crazy statement to make perhaps, given that everything is of course fictional and non-existent, but in my stories I like to think that the ‘life’ of the characters and settings carry on regardless of their place in the story, and if it’s engineered well (which in Callisto I don’t think it is), then there is a real sense of that, which in turn brings a lot more realism to the story, a lot more of a roundness to the whole.
Setting aside my little personal idiosyncrasy though, I’ve got to conclude that Callisto is a novel that is definitely worth reading, if only to grab the opportunity to fall in love with its main character. I think I can state quite boldly in closing that there have been few finer, or more endearing comedy characters created in literature, and my only hope is that this isn’t the last time one hears of Mr. Odell Deefus. He’s way too good to keep to only one novel, and I hope that Mr. Krol is out there listening, whoever on earth he may be (although after reading Callisto I’m starting to wonder if his real name may well be Agent Jim Ricker! )).
Publisher: Harper Perennial (US)
Published: 17 Feb 2009 (US)
Pages: 464 pages