Camel’s Bastard Son, the new novel from Memphis author Corey Mesler, may be one of the most bizarre — as well as one of the most hilarious and sexually explicit — reads you will come across this year.
At its core, the novel is a love story. Young Billy Kos, the adopted son of dairy worker, is an aspiring poet and marijuana salesman who lusts for a girl named Kalma Voyles. In the time-honored way of romantic heroes, Billy woos Kalma, marries her, and eventually has his heart broken.
“Kalma had a slight overbite, full lips which she was in the habit of tugging on, an overabundance of freckles and the glassy-eyed look of the inbred,” Mesler writes. “From fifty yards away Billy Kos fell in love with her in a heartbeat.” So much so that, for the first time since high school, he wrote a poem titled “Kalma’s Yellow Panties,” which Mesler observes was thankfully lost to history. Page after page of increasingly graphic sexual exploits – and awkward hilarity – follows.
Kalma herself isn’t all there. While she is smart enough to graduate college and hold a teacher’s job, when it comes to the relationship with Billy, she is naïve, innocent, and altogether clueless. “She has an odd way about her,” Billy explains at one point to his best friend. “She seems…ethereal.” Kalma’s desire and curiosity are insatiable, however, and sexual experimentation and gratification become the be-all, end-all of their existence together.
Despite Kalma’s odd behavior, Billy’s love continues to grow. But no sooner do the pair tie the knot than things begin to take an unexpected turn. Billy sees Kalma French-kissing her family’s servant, Tomboy, and then she spends the night with another man while she and Billy are on their honeymoon. Beside himself with grief at her brazen betrayal, Billy leaves her.
“He wasn’t as good as Kalma at this game, if game it was,” Mesler writes. “The truth was that he still ached for Kalma. She had set up permanent residence in his libido and imagining another man between her otherworldly legs made Billy want to cry.”
Mesler could have left things at that, like a million other sad romance novels, but he gives the novel a mind-boggling twist in its second half — one reminiscent of a Kurt Vonnegut novel and sure to leave readers both reeling with laughter and scratching their heads. In the interest of not spoiling the rest of the story, let’s just say it involves time travel and another planet.
Camel’s Bastard Son is set after Trump’s presidency and refers to several fictional Trump-related changes — sports teams, for instance, must be comprised of 50% white athletes — that add sharp-edged humor to the love story but ultimately have little bearing on the plot at hand. As Mesler points out, the two presidents following Trump’s assassination “were ineffectual. They, like much of America, were scared of change, however innocuous a change might seem. Stasis rules. People believed it was safe and comfortable.”
Billy, too, seems unable to accept change. He adjusts as best he can to each new circumstance thrown his way — for better or worse, as his marriage vows dictate. But sadly, his inability to let Kalma go proves his undoing.
Ultimately, Mesler has crafted a hilarious and moving story about changing relationships, attitudes toward others, tolerance, personal desires, and broken dreams that is deeply relatable to any reader, regardless of time.
G. Robert Frazier is a former Middle Tennessee newspaper reporter and editor now working as a book reviewer and aspiring screenwriter. He has served as a script reader for screenwriting competitions at both the Austin Film Festival and the Nashville Film Festival. He lives in La Vergne.
Tagged: Book Reviews