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A Question for Existence: a review of Stranger Will by Caleb J. Ross

"Reading Stranger Will" ©2011 Kristin Fouquet

Having loved Ross’ collection of short stories, Charactered Pieces, I greatly anticipated reading his first novel. I was not disappointed. Again, he takes the reader out of his or her comfort zone. The theme of this book reminded me of a strange incident.

In the fall of 2003, I was seven months pregnant with my first child when I visited San Francisco for the fourth time. In the previous three trips, I noticed the homeless population, but didn’t dwell too long on the issue as I live in a city with a similar problem. However, this time, I became acutely aware of a deep hatred by many of the homeless for pregnant women and parents in general. I was verbally harassed by a couple of homeless men and given a roundhouse kick to the shin by a homeless woman. I was among the despised, a group many called “breeders.”

This prompted many thoughts for me about cruelty and a desire to end a species. I thought of pregnant victims like Sharon Tate, her hands desperately covering her abdomen and begging the stabbers not to hurt her baby, and Laci Peterson with her husband as her murderer. I read an article of a pregnant woman in San Francisco who was followed by a homeless man and beaten in her apartment. He then covered her in red paint. Fortunately, her husband found her in time to save both mother and baby with an emergency delivery. While some people regarded me as an appealing example of motherhood, I now knew I was also regarded as a repulsive agent in continuing an already burdening overpopulation. I tried to understand this latter concept, but I was incapable. I could not think of my unborn daughter as a drain on resources; I had already bonded with her. I loved her.

This memory resonated throughout my reading of Stranger Will. The protagonist, William Lowson, an impending father, makes no secret of his extremely serious doubts about bringing a child into this world. Fortunately for him, he meets kindred spirits who share his ideology. Yet, like many great characters in literature, William grows and even displays a glimpse of paternal nature for a child, Eugene. Even in all his darkness, I hoped for William to escape the existential nightmare of Ross’ city of Brackenwood. I wanted to believe there was a city beyond it, free of the absolute cruelty in pursuit of perfection. Then, I remembered San Francisco. In fear, I thought about the potentiality of that segment of the homeless population if organized and resourceful enough to take their ideology to an elevated level. I thought about all the vulnerable pregnant women and the doubts of their maternal abilities. We are not too far removed from the world Ross has created in Stranger Will.

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.

I welcome the author to my humble blog, Le Salon Annex, on his extensive blog book tour, “Stranger Will Tour for Strange,” on October 26, 2011. Find out more about Stranger Will here.


  1. absolutely frightening San Francisco experience.


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