Callisto a novel about the character of Odell Deefus, a Forrest Gump type fellow whose life turns out more like you would expect for someone “who’s not the sharpest tool in the shed.” Instead of the fairy tale cascade of happy accidents that happened to Gump, for Deefus there is instead a nightmarish spiral of darkly evil developments. The book is intended as a black comedy/satire, but the cruelty exhibited toward Deefus can be discouraging and depressing.
Deefus serves as a foil for Krol to expose what he calls the inanity of the Bush Era, from the hypocrisy of the religious right to the encouragement of torture at Abu Ghraib, to the invasion of everyone’s privacy by a plethora of self-important government agencies.
Deefus – twenty-one years old, simplistic, good-hearted, gullible, and slow to catch on to a bad situation, sets out for an Army enlistment office in Callisto, Kansas. His car breaks down, and he has the bad luck to ask for help at the home of Dean Lowry, a drug dealer with possible Muslim affiliations, possible homosexual tendencies, and a big open grave sitting all ready in his back yard. Deefus’s bad luck careens out of control, even as it is juxtaposed to and opposed to by implication to the fate of Gump. Both characters were able to attain a bit of peace and fulfillment from the simple job of mowing the lawn, and they both become deeply entangled with the government and its war. But whereas Gump becomes a hero, Deefus is thrown into the jaws of Hell.
Some of it is very funny, such as the fact that Deefus carries a torch for Condoleeza Rice (and keeps her picture in his wallet). Some of it is over the top (would anyone really think Deuteronomy was “Jewteronomy” or that Revelations was “Revolutions”?). But most of it is an unfortunately sad-but-true look at the crueler side of the world. The writing in the Abu Ghraib/Guantanamo section is excellent. You can’t help liking Deefus. But his story is reminiscent of the one the biologist Nicholas Tinbergen tells about how strong fish will gang up and attack a weaker one.
Do I recommend it? I’d have to say yes and no. If you, like my husband, loved the movie “Fargo” and thought it was full of biting wit and satire, you probably will like this book. If you, like me, liked some parts of “Fargo” and appreciated its art but thought that overall it was mean and depressing, you might try something else.
Published by HarperCollins Publishers, 2009