Caleb J. Ross has been published widely, both online and in print. He is the author of Charactered Pieces: Stories, Stranger Will: A Novel, and I Didn’t Mean to Be Kevin: A Novel.
"Ross continues to stake his claim as his generation's Watcher. . . an observation about the scope of his imagination and his ongoing vision of what the world can be, might be and just maybe will be if Ross has anything to say about it."
"As a Machine and Parts is equal parts hilarious, absurd and touching. It’s the kind of book that after reading makes you say, ‘Damn, why didn’t I think of that first?’ only to realize you couldn’t have done it so well."
I’ve known Caleb Ross for a few years and his writing’s always visceral — both grotesque and erudite — and As a Machine & Parts is no different.
A man, inexplicably, begins to transform, and his transformation is almost Kafka-esque. But, more than his transformation into a machine — certainly the most obvious part of the novel — is Caleb’s focus, which is not about becoming a machine, but what it means to be human.
This novella is about relationships, how they’re formed, and the ways they can fall apart, and the ways we change. This, I think, is what all great literature does, and I know it’s the question at the center of my own writing: what does it mean to be human?
It’s a quick read and it kept me up while I raced through its pages, even sending him a Facebook message when I finished, sometime in the middle of the night, which, I suppose, is just when I tend to be wandering the Internet the most. But his novel really hit me, not just that night, but for the rest of the week, and even now, three months later. It still sticks in me as I battle with the questions that haunt me, trying to sort out what it means to be human, and how, perhaps, one day I’ll be one too.
To be human, all my life grappling with that desire. And it’s stories like this that make it somehow clearer, by creating negative space, showing us the ways we fail, the ways we lose our humanity, the ways we long to even just cling to that which makes us human, that we learn how to be.
And even while our narrator loses his humanity, so too does the text lose its humanness. The page itself transforms, the structure moving from a standard storytelling model to schematics and diagrams, an instruction manual designed to show us what we’re reading. Something I’ve always loved about Caleb’s writing is how visual and gripping his images are, and, here, he’s married his language to concrete visuals, pushing his storytelling past what I thought it could be.
This novella about heartache and love and identity and humanity is also just completely fun. It never gets bogged down in its own peculiarity or tragedy, simply accepting the transformation as a matter of course, allowing for laughs even while the story reaches deep into your bowels.