These are stories of hope amid the Zoloft and bar tabs that cushion our crumbling lives.With Charactered Pieces, Caleb J. Ross presents a varied world of familial discord, one where a dead fetus evokes more compassion than its mother (“Charactered Pieces”); where two brothers offer the destruction of a family legacy as a birthday gift for their aging father (“My Family’s Rule”); where one brother’s love of Holocaust documentaries pushes his family through the aftermath of his assumed suicide (“The Camp”).Charactered Pieces peels away the superficial armor of public life to reveal the flaws beneath and treats those perceived weaknesses not as hidden sources of pain but as reasons to celebrate life.
Daniel Casebeer, editor of Pear Noir!
"Evoking a novel by Chuck Palahniuk or a film by Darren Aronofsky, Charactered Pieces is a multifarious patchwork of despair. From the misshapen protagonist of the title story to the gruesome climax of “The Camel of Morocco,” this collection is among the most profound and disturbing artifacts of our time."
Tim Hall, author of How America Died (Undie Press)
"Ross claims that his characters are not drawn from real people and yet these stories—about a jewelry saleswoman with a fetal leg growing out of her belly, a man who drinks the blood of a dead camel, or a budding Holocaust documentarian who dies in a mysterious incident involving a coat hanger—sound eerily similar to my own life. Chances are you'll find yourself in here, too. Wicked, weird, and wonderful."
Stephen Graham Jones, author of Demon Theory (MacAdam/Cage) and Ledfeather (FC2)
"These stories change you, and not just a little bit. Try to forget them, tell yourself they're not true, but it's no use. Whether you want them to or not, they're going with you."
Ben Tanzer, author of Most Likely You'll Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine (Orange Alert Press)
"While there is weirdness in these stories, not to mention biblical allegories and tales of suicide and the holocaust, what lingers is an underlying thread about the impact parents, fathers in particular, have on our lives whether through their presence or more often their absence. Ultimately, the stories are like a collective punch to the chest, though none more so than An Optimist is the Human Personification of Spring which caused me to lose my breath for a fleeting moment as I sat on the train and still haunts me even as I write this."
Nik Korpon, author of Stay God (Otherworld Publications)
"If you are the type of person who relishes written words–the sentence that encapsulates a life, the paragraphs of description scraped down to a single image, the phrase that echoes in your head all day–this is the type of book you want to read. These stories will haunt you."
Gloom Cupboard, Allie Dresser
"Oft fragmented in the post-modern style, Charactered Pieces is best read the same way you eat an elephant: one bite at a time. For those who enjoy the works of Kurt Vonnegut or Dave Eggers, this book is for you. If you only have time for one with your morning coffee, read “Refill”. Then come back and fill up on more."
Mel Bosworth, author of When the Cats Razzed the Chickens & other stories (Folded Word)
"...a celebration of characters who are cursed. With life...Whether destructive, apathetic, misshapen or addicted, the characters in this collection continue to chug forward like damaged locomotives that refuse to derail. Their power, it seems, is in their imperfections, and Ross shows us, without a doubt, he is a master of tragedy made gorgeous...Stark, vivid, and yes, often unsettling, Charactered Pieces grips you and won’t let go, pulling your eyes through the dark smudges of humanity’s rifts with a terrifying, skillful grace...Beneath the rubble of their lives, the characters in Charactered Pieces know who they are, and Ross challenges us to forsake them. But we cannot, for they are us."
Oxyfication.net, Jason Kane
"These stories contain normal people crushed under the wheels of circumstance and the weight of guilt. The characters within are far beyond damaged– they are wrecked. Busted parents and screwed up kids; scarred, ruined, and weighed down with ten tons of remorse and pain wrapped in cancerous silence. Like individual flaws in the same junk diamond, they share some unspeakable pain in one way or another. But all this hurt isn’t dreamt up for the author’s detached amusement, or for the titillation of some nihilistic reader– this is a bid for communion where it is needed most. In each story the characters’ struggles are the result of some long-incubated despair, intimate and undeniable as a deathbed rasp."
Present Magazine, Pete Dulin
"Ross’ writing unfurls characters and plot with patience, allowing the layered meanings to filter from words into consciousness and realization. His prose is compact, dense with meaning, eloquent in its brevity. He crafts stories that are powerful, accessible, and unsettling enough to draw the reader in with curiosity about how these lives will play out, prompting the imagination to extend the implications long after the final word has been read."
Kristin Fouquet, author of Twenty Stories (Rank Stranger Press)
"This collection of stories is one of the best I’ve read in a long time. The short form has always been my preference. I admire when a writer can take us immediately in and then release us in short duration. When it works, it is exhilarating. Caleb J. Ross delivers this."
Gordon Highland, author of Major Inversions and Flashover
"Much like the scratch-n-dent jewelry of the title story's namesake, these flawed characters make their way through the treacherous literary terrain of Ross's imagination, blasted by sandstorms and demolition crews, derided by their families and coworkers, wracked with guilt, and seeking redemption in the fleeting margins between their text and your thumb. As seen under the cruel magnification of a loupe, these defects are but facets, however, and Ross's sales pitch emphasizes the sentimental value in knowing their complete selves."
Full of Crow, Lynn Alexander
"Ross delivers exactly what you have come to expect from him: smart layers of fiction with thematically related elements. We see attention to strange details…and we see sick things that on occasion seem nudged into the foreground from where they stood, poised in the periphery...The pairing of innocence with tragedy and the parental dilemma forms- at least to me- the subtext of the “Charactered Pieces” stories. Thinking back to what I have read, Ross is at his best here. This book is a true credit to him."
Blinding Loud, Sean P. Ferguson
"The stories don’t change you because they cause you to rethink how you’re living in some great respect. You’re not forced on with issues that want you to decide whether or not to have an abortion, or pick a side when it comes to same sex marriage. They don’t beat down your door demanding that you give all of your belongings to charity. You’re presented with life and the ability to deal with what you’re dealt. Now put down what you’re doing, read, and start to live. Really live. Because if these people can, so can you, we all have Charactered Pieces in us."
Ken Wohlrob, author of The Love Book
"The prose is punchy and has a great rhythm to it, especially when the stories are told in first person. Ross nails his character’s voices, so you can feel yourself sitting in a bar and hearing the grim tales first hand. “Charactered Pieces,” “The Camp,” and “An Optimist is the Human Personification of Spring” — the best of the stories where you can’t help being drawn into the lives of the narrators — are worth the cover price alone."
DeLeon DeMicoli, author of White Belts and Lick Me
"...by far the best short stories I have read in the past few years. Seriously. I was blown back."
Brandon Tietz, author of Out of Touch
"Bottom line and up front: Ross has got some serious talent. That much becomes obvious on the first page and with each successive one. In "Charactered Pieces," Ross plays doctor on the reader, either by tugging on the heart strings or twisting the knife in your gut. Each story has an intended effect, whether it's a nostalgic longing or an uncomfortable self-awareness to our flaws, and Ross showcases his ability with succinct accuracy and haunting wordplay. These are the kind of stories you think about long after you've read them."
Insomnia Press, Dakota Taylor
"Charactered Pieces is on par with...early novels by Chuck Palahniuk. The difference is, Palahniuk sucker punches the reader with his prose and knocks your teeth out, leaving you bleeding and cheering. Caleb is a little more sneaky. Charactered Pieces spikes your drink and has you in someone's trunk before you even know it...One of the most moving and diverse pieces of work I've read in years."
Kind Words(from Frank Edler, here): "Typically I don't comment directly specific content in my reviews but I wish to break the rule here. The story, "An Optimist is the Human Personification of Spring" was moving. I have not had that deep an emotional reaction to a story in quite some time and I certainly can not recall ever being that emotionally vested in a story that short. Brilliant work there among a collection of already top notch writing...I'm very glad I was introduced to Caleb J Ross from a great podcast (BookedPodcast.com). This is not the type of work I would have picked up off a shelf or internet browsing. I'm so very glad I was coaxed to read him though. I absolutely intend to further devour Caleb Ross' writing." (from Anthony David Jacques, here): "It’s incisively honest, nauseatingly powerful, borderline voyeuristic. All in the best way. This collection leads you along a razor’s edge of human vulnerability and frailty, poised to catch you off guard at every turn and cradle you the moment you break. And you will break, if you have a heart at all." (from Austin James, here): "Charactered Pieces might be compared to being in a bad relationship: you fall deeper and deeper in love as your heart breaks over and over again. You won’t forget these words, even if (for some ungodly reason) you wanted to." (from Stephen Krauska, here): "Between his spectacular characters, interesting stories, excellent metaphors all held together with great imagery and vivid description, Ross is a must read. He's young, fresh and down to earth enough to admittedly "steal" lyrics and write an "Acknowledgment" section that sounds more like a bonus story than a Hollywood awards speech. Keep an eye on him, he is bound to turn up more great work in the future." (from Jason Kane, here): "Caleb's fiction is haunting and beautiful and disturbing and the opposite of timid. Un-timid? It recognizes no boundary. Like a spider loose in your walls." (from Roger Sarao, here): "The range of stories is impressive, as is your tone and vocabulary. The stories themselves are unforgettable, as Stephen [Graham Jones] has stated. I'll never get that yellow hardhat out of my mind. And now the cover makes sense! Writers amaze me -- how on earth do you get the breadth of facts to make a story about the Middle East or demolitions (for example) sound so natural? Awesome debut!" (from Craig Wallwork, here): "It is a great achievement for any writer to see their work in print, but to produce a piece that could, given time, be a significant bit of storytelling of our age, is awe-inspiring." (from Alex J. Martin): "His stories have never bored me, never failed to elicit shameful grins and so many minutes of that specific glee one gets from articulate, clever and confrontational literature." (from Vicki Nikolaidis, here): "His phenomenal artwork graces the cover, but don't look too hard, the drawing will make sense later...before you understand what is happening it is your world and you will be sharing a space in your brain with Charactered Pieces several weeks after you thought you had finished the stories." (from nouspique): "The chapbook leaves the reader teetering on an awkward fulcrum between a cheap sales trick and a compassionate way of seeing people. Maybe that’s where all good writing sits." (from Jason Makansi, here): "Each story has momentum. Characters take what society gives them and deconstruct under their own illusions or delusions. Ross’s language is crisp, even as the sentences accelerate you effortlessly into the story, the unimaginable becoming all too real, then gently guide you into a deep pool of reflection and contemplation at story’s end. His themes offer about as much uplift as the Wright Brothers first experimental airplane, but they make you think at exit velocity. Regardless of how you feel after you read these stories, you can’t help BUT feel, with empathy and tolerance for the lives portrayed, and respect for the author." Click to read Amazon.com reviews Click to read Goodreads.com reviews
Insomnia Press for Charactered Pieces: "One of the most moving and diverse pieces of work I've read in years"Thanks to Gordon Highland for bringing this Charactered Pieces review to my attention. Generally my ego is a pretty good magnet for the rare praise floating around out there. And of course, super thanks to Dakota Taylor and Insomnia Press for the kind, kind words. “Charactered Pieces is on par with…early novels by Chuck Palahniuk. The difference is, Palahniuk sucker punches the reader with his prose and knocks your teeth out, leaving you bleeding and cheering. Caleb is a little … → Read More »
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