REVIEW: Pumpkin Teeth (Tom Cardamone)

pumpkinFinally–time for another review! It seems like I’ve been reading Pumpkin Teeth for an age, but it’s been entirely down to the myriad other commitments I have and not remotely a reflection on the quality of the book, because I absolutely loved this collection of short stories–which made it an even more surreal moment when a submission from the author popped into my Glitterwolf inbox.

All of the stories fall into the muddy area of ‘speculative fiction’ with a decidedly gay bent (pun not intended). He has an unerring ability to create a clearly defined world in a very short space of time, and each story presents a markedly different dystopian world alive with all the opposing shades of tragedy and joy that reality brings; they always ring true as more than an exercise in genre. The stories are provoking, and frequently pack a shocking punch (he’s damn good at endings) and nearly all of them are shot through with an erotic streak that is quite hard to pin down to any detail. I have his novella Green Thumb to read next, but am tempted to buy ‘The Werewolves of Central Park’ which is described as an ‘erotic novel’, which is exactly the kind of tag that would have put me off before.

Lightning Capital The first short story is about a teenager who, upon moving home and meeting another boy with whom he falls in love, finds himself transformed into the lightning itself. It’s a decent metaphor that Cardamone lifts beyond what could have been cliche, and is a great introduction to his offbeat worldview.

Bottom Feeder Palahniuk-does-scifi, in which a man wishing to escape his life is transformed into a giant manatee that swims around in a private tank being fisted by pool boys. Very strange, very graphic, and I feel as if I was being told something about society but couldn’t tell you what.

The Sphinx Next Door A simply, everyday conundrum of manners, made worse by the fact that the protagonist’s neighbour is a sphinx. I remember enjoying the story, but I’m also struggling to remember what happens.

Yolk A series of interconnected dreams, sexual and wild and confusing, and a brilliant exercise in surrealism with no real narrative and, if I’m honest, no great point. The one story in the collection I could have coped without.

Suitcase Sam In the dingy bars, the story of what exactly a Suitcase Sam is is extracted from an elderly patron. Some of the greatest turns of phrase in the book are in this story and although it may not be a big surprise what a Suitcase Sam turns out to be, the whole story is simultaneously gripping, sleazy and a bit arousing.

Royal Catamite The tale of a catamite for the emperor, raised from birth to perform certain services for his monarch with stunning ability, who one day discovers that swallowing the seed of the emperor has surprising effects. A great character, and another story I enjoyed greatly even though my synopsis doesn’t seem very strong!

Mishima Death Cult The most directly ‘real-world’ story, in which a bunch of teenagers dedicated to a literary figure none of them has actually even really read decide to blow up a school. The shading of multiple characters and the sense of tension is great, with a killer ending. Reads like a less fatalistic Dennis Cooper.

Lowbear In daylight hours the boys of the village forage for metals in the wasteland, and by night the menacing Lowbear stalks for prey. Another story of fast and vivid world-building, with another ending that leaves me thinking ‘Oh, so I think… so does that mean…. oh…...’

Sundowners A woman is employed in a care home for vampires. Sort of Getting On meets Being Human. Kinda.

Lotus Bread The world is struck by the miracle of lotus bread–a strange substance that leaves its owners addicted to the bliss, acceptance and happiness it grants. Chilling story and a great read-between-the-lines kind of story as you watch disturbing things happening around a drug-addicted narrator who has no idea anything is wrong.

Sick Days My favourite story in the book; sickness has started striking down all the children, and Sick Days is the story of the last family on the street with healthy children holding it together in a world going bad. A story full of masterfully subtle suggestion and haunting explorations of the effects on society and people, with a terrifyingly ambiguous ending.

River Rat Watchmen meets Pushing Daisies–the reborn mutant hero River Rat sticks to the shadows, fighting the forces of the Apparation and yearning after the baker who produces cupcakes instead of tears. The sweetest story in the collection but still shot through with darkness and gritty fantasy.

The Next Bardo I was unsure on this story–about a man who returns to the home he grew up in to investigate a gay bar he never knew existed, only to take a trip through the bar’s history. That being said, the strongest image in the whole book occurs as he faces the teenager he bullied at school who, as time speeds past, pleads with him and then succumbs to lesions and vanishes before him.

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