Stranger Will: a novel

Stranger Will: a novel

The child he loves. The idea of a child, he's beginning to understand, is where everything will go wrong.


The child he loves. The idea of a child, he's beginning to understand, is where everything will go wrong.
William works as a human remains removal specialist, removing stains left by the dead. Whether by a bloody crime scene or a quiet domestic death, William is reminded each day of the frailty of human life. As his fiancée, Julie, nears term with their first child William becomes increasingly desperate for a way to overcome his belief that to birth is to kill. But Mrs. Rose, an elementary school principal and messenger pigeon hobbyist, nurtures William’s depressive outlook and claims to have a way to prove that William’s hesitancy to accept fatherhood is not only natural but necessary.
In this novel of impending parenthood, an idealistic teacher recruits a pliant protégé to join her group of Strangers – a devout collection of kindred minds who have dedicated their lives to cultivating a unique idea of perfection.
But joining is easier than leaving.


Stranger Will combines nihilism, existentialism, and cynicism, guided by a masterful use of dark wit, to produce the most chilling story of child raising and social engineering that I’ve probably ever read. Though the cast of SW is largely unsympathetic on the surface, they gain our sympathy by our realization that they are each an inescapable facet of ourselves, especially the parts that we hide from everyone else. In that way Stranger Will is a mirror, and in the reflection we see every hideous imperfection. However, this is not some goth-boy polemic about depression and anarchy. Instead, it redefines hope and redemption into more realistic, bite-sized chunks. I highly recommend this book. There is a tone to Ross’s work that makes the experience real, and his surreal towns seem all too possible, which is what good literature should do. ~ Paul Eckert,

STRANGER WILL by Caleb J. Ross is art through prose. Every line is finely crafted. Each sentence suitable for quoting. The story itself is brilliant and unique. I have given high praise to earlier short story collections from Caleb J. Ross and his first full length novel has me absolutely enamored with the writer. Reading STRANGER WILL could take an iron constitution if your a parent. In typical Ross style he claws with rusty nails at the wonders of parenthood and finds that microscopic shred of nasty little thoughts that get buried deep within your being. That is when he really goes to town and incubates those dirty little ideas and culls a vibrant petri dish of twisted emotions. You don’t just read a Caleb J. Ross story, you evolve through it. STRANGER WILL also serves as a philosophical work. The arguments all revolve around the idea of perfection. Those ideas are argued brilliantly from all sides. It’s truly amazing when all those arguments are coming from the one voice of the writer. I often found myself drawing parallels from this book to the classic Philosophical tome, ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE. That sentiment alone could be the biggest compliment I could pay this book. This is without a doubt a 5 star read. I know I will be left haunted by it for quite some time. This is the type of story that should one day be studied in college literature and/or philosophy classes. It is a marvel to read and I can not place enough emphasis on the need for anyone who breathes to read this. ~ Frank Edler,

Saying Stranger Will is compelling is the understatement of the year. 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. ~ Bob Pastorella, Obscuradrome

In his first full length novel, Kansas City native Caleb J. Ross waxes prosaic the age old case of jitters that comes with impending fatherhood…As the novel continues, the plot gets increasingly dark and starkly less comedy and Ross’s writing all the more pointed. It reads like a nightmare you wake up from in the middle of the night and spend the next day wondering how much of it was real. The twists are shocking and terrifying, but somehow founded in reason and not entirely unbelievable…Charles Bukowski dedicated the thinly fictionalized account of his young life, Ham on Rye, with the words “for all the fathers” as the simultaneous threat, fear, blame and praise a delinquent child squares on his father. Such a dedication would be fitting for Caleb J. Ross’s Stranger Will. ~ Stephen Krauska, Cannoli Pie magazine

It’s been a while since I have read a solid, eerie tale of actual human depravity — let’s face it, most writers are too zombie and vampire obsessed these days — but Stranger Will hits the mark perfectly. The plot, is taught, well-crafted, and 2/3 of the way in hits you with the right-hook to the head where you suddenly realize everything that came before was just a warm-up for the real action. And Ross, never winks, never let’s down his guard — very important for this kind of tale. He could have tried to temper the darkness with humor, but that would’ve undercut the atmosphere. As written, there is no letup for the reader. Ross has outdone himself on this one…Ross writes the macabre better than most. ~ Ken Wholrob, author of The Love Book, and Songs of Vagabonds, Misfits, and Sinners

With ease, Ross seems to dare you to turn the page. Chapter Eighteen is gut-wrenching. It reminded me of footage of Shias parading while flogging themselves. The children used soft, harmless cat-o-nine tails to emulate the self-flagellation they would later truly and painfully enact in their maturity. Ross is not so gentle with his children characters demonstrating their faith nor does he coddle his readers. His writing is fearless. The courageous reader will not be dissatisfied. ~ Kristin Fouquet, author of Twenty Stories and Rampart & Toulouse

While the themes and literary devices employed in the book are reminiscent of Chuck Palahniuk’s early work, the prose stylings are pure Ross. Dark, disturbing imagery combined with great sensory detail and a grotesque wink now and then. ~ Gordon Highland, author of Major Inversions and Flashover

Stranger Will is a nightmare landscape littered with the carcasses of fatherhood and various social mores. This is one paranoid, challenging, beautiful, and pitch-dark book. I’m a little afraid of this Ross guy now; but I’ll also read anything he writes. ~ Paul Tremblay, author of The Little Sleep, No Sleep Till Wonderland, and In the Mean Time

Caleb J. Ross is a dangerous writer. He wields an impressive collection of hazardous, black-hearted ideas, and he has the skill to feed them right into your gray matter. Even if you’ve already got an obsidian-dark sense of humor, a cast-iron stomach, and a membership in Misanthropes Monthly, you are letting Caleb J. Ross into your mind at your own risk. ~ Jeremy Robert Johnson , author of Angeldust Apocolypse, Extinction Journals, and We Live Inside You

More nihilistic than a chainsaw-wielding midget who wants to be the tallest man on Earth. ~ Bradley Sands, author of It Came From Below the Belt, My Heart Said No But the Camera Crew Said Yes, and Please Do Not Shoot Me in the Face

[Caleb] is gifted, in that his characters exhibit grotesqueries that somehow seem encoded with the same flaws of the world they inhabit, as if they are not constructs, but victims: the fruits of a tree growing upside down. ~ Jason Kane,

Just like a Palahniuk novel, Stranger Will reads volatile: it could go any way. Caleb J. Ross leads you with a wry smile into dark places, but by the time you realize it’s too late. You will follow him anywhere. ~ Alan Emmins, author of Mop Men: Inside the World of Crime Scene Cleaners

As someone who teaches, edits and reads for a living, I’m always looking for the scene, the character, the story I haven’t read a thousand times over and over. Something with the spark of originality and the courage to be different. When I see that something new, it’s always a joy. And, thanks to Caleb J. Ross and his Stranger Will, I had those moments of joy repeatedly throughout the book. This is an original—unlike anything you’ve ever read before. ~ Rob Roberge, author of More than they Could Chew and Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of my Life

Caleb J. Ross
Caleb J. Ross Caleb J. Ross has a BA in English Literature and creative writing from Emporia State University. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared wid...
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