Callisto by Torsten Krol
Not much is known about the author of Callisto. With no public appearances and communication with his agent strictly via email there has even been speculation that he may be a more established author writing under a pseudonym. His first novel The Dolphin People was published last year without making too huge a splash, perhaps Atlantic were hoping to draw more attention with this hideous front cover.
In this satirical novel we meet Odell Deefus a simple man from America's Bible Belt on his way to enlist for the army. Fate however has other plans for him and when his car breaks down in Callisto, Kansas he begins a journey that will involve murder, drug running, fundamentalist religion and just about every Government agency going. I don't want to say much more about the plot so you can enjoy the roller coaster ride for yourself. The real strength of this novel is in the character of its narrator. Deefus is not so much idiot savant as idiot and his narration is peppered with malapropisms and misunderstandings.
The broad brush strokes are reminiscent of DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little (what is it with Australians satirising America?) and for many this may be covering similar ground. Where Pierre focused on the media, Krol looks at American attitudes post 9/11 and this is a book which includes Islam, bomb plots, torture and Condeleeza Rice (as the rather hilarious object of Deefus' affections at one point). At 437 pages it is a tad long and whilst Deefus is an entertaining narrator the naiveté can be a little frustrating at times. America has got pretty good at satirising itself these days so this book isn't as sharp as it thinks nor quite the 'novel of our times' Atlantic might hope it is. But there is a lot of fun to be had along the way and in Odell Deefus we have a guide of such innocence that as he gets himself into deeper and darker territory it is hard not to feel hugely sympathetic.