If Torsten Krol's debut novel went no further than the setup, a floundering young high school dropout getting in over his head in the go-nowhere titular town, it would be a great read. Krol has a fantastic gift for fleshed-out character creation and a command of quirk to rival that found in the best movies of the Coen brothers. However, like the Coens, Krol's story wades into the shallow end of strange and then something takes hold of its feet and drags it down into epic depths of weird and wonderful.
Odell Deefus is a loser by most objective standards. He's a drifter with no prospects who hits upon the terrible idea of joining the U.S. Army circa 2007 to fight "the mad dog Islamites" and gain recognition as a person who matters. His plan takes him in the direction of an Army recruitment center in Callisto, Kansas. Deefus's car, however, falls short of the goal by dying at a farm on the outskirts of town. You could call it fate, but only if you believe in a terrible God who enjoys laughing at the tribulations of the less fortunate.
This unscheduled detour assures that all of his plans, ill-thought as they were, have now gone off the rails, depositing Odell in a perfect storm of cross purposes and competing agendas. How does one man escape the entaglements of murder, lawn mowing, drug dealing, terrorism, local news, televangelism, small-town grudges, national politics and military "justice" armed only with a love of rum and Condoleeza Rice? Can not quite sharp enough instincts and a cracked spine copy of The Yearling guide Odell out of the troubles he's both fallen into and created for himself?
Callisto is a book equal parts George Singleton and George Saunders; exploring small town eccentricity and nation-sized paranoia; both a story of personal inventory and a chronicle of national dread. Far from another safe, 'there he goes again', funny, sad sack story, it's also a hilariously brutal indictment of a society too ready for story and not able to question what they're given. Odell Deefus is the post-9/11 Middle American Everyman, not stupid but unthinking; affable but less wise than the times demand. His journey may be highly improbable, but his part in the story rings true, God help us.