I’m a very picky reader. I gave up reading formulaic so-called ‘Bestseller’ fiction years ago, primarily because most ‘Bestsellers’ cater to what I call the Highest Common Denominator Reader. Being a Highest Common Denominator Reader doesn’t make you a bad reader. But if you read the same things over and over, eventually you’re going to get bored with the subject matter, then bored with reading altogether, which is a bad thing in my view. Ten years ago I became bored with reading. Oh, I still read, but mainly I was rereading the books I liked, afraid to venture out on a literary limb and try something new, lest I get burned again. There’s nothing worse than checking out the back of a book and feeling that thrill that yes, maybe, this one will be the one, this book will be enjoyable and rewarding, only to find the words inside are stagnant. Dead.
Stranger Will by Caleb J. Ross is not one of those Highest Common Denominator Reader books. I’m sure he will take that as a compliment. We were in the same initial group in WriteClub 2010, and I certainly enjoyed his feedback concerning my project, and I also enjoyed reading his project. After participating with him on a podcast at the velvet last year debating Literary vs. Genre fiction, I realized that behind Caleb’s witty commentary and massive amount of intelligence, he is also extremely serious about his writing.
Saying Stranger Will is compelling is the understatement of the year. The main character, William, removes the stains the dead leave behind, literally. William’s whole life is calls at 3 am in the morning, chemicals in the back of a van working into his pores, his life. He’s in a dead-end job and in a marriage teetering on failing miserably. His pregnant wife is focused on their soon to be born child while he is focused on spending as much time away from her as possible. The harsh reality settles in: When all you see is death, what’s the point? A principal of the local elementary school takes William under her wing, determined to show him there is another way. Her group is intent on making the world perfect, one child at a time. Once William is in the group, he realizes perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Quality fiction is both compelling and unpredictable. It’s also dangerous, which is why we read it. Ross writes with all of these factors in mind. From the first pages, he takes you by the hand, leading you down dark corridors where you really don’t want to go, but you’re unable to turn away. And when you look back at him, and he gives you that sly grin, you know that you have to walk the path, there is no turning back because you’re in too deep. Fiction 101 dictates we know our characters, and it’s obvious Caleb has spent a lot of time with his story people. Readers seek out this intimacy and relish the thrill when they find it. Consider yourselves warned. Caleb writes with an intelligence and depth far beyond his years, and his words will scar your heart forever.
In early August, Mr. Ross will grace us here with his presence as part of his Stranger Will For Strange Blog Tour He suggested I take out insurance on this place. Rest assured, there will be plenty of hand sanitizer to go around. Let’s hope the lingering after-effect of his visit will shine a bright light here and wherever else his tour takes him.