Monday, August 30, 2010

Book Review: Pumpkin Teeth

Pumpkin Teeth
Tom Cardamone
Lethe Press

'Lo Peoples,

For me, a stimulating short story anthology makes me want to start writing. I dunno. I guess imagination is catching. I should probably add absurdity and a penchant for pushing the barriers of reader comfort to my extremely communicable fiction list. The only item that left me perplexed about some of the stories were some endings in medias res. I found myself scanning the page for more words that simply didn't appear. Take this as evidence of Cardamone's ability to create immersive story worlds rather than a slight. Thirteen different times, I floated down the rabbit hole. I don't think one can fall into a Pumpkin Teeth story.

These were the journeys that I found most delightful in a wicked sort of way. I'm sure you'll choose your own.

Bottom Feeder presents a first person narrator who has evolved or devolved into the kind of "retirement community" that could be best described as a human version of Flipper or Namu engaged in proctophilic activities and singing.

In Suitcase Sam the first person narrator allows the reader a view into an oddly logical development of the ultimate in sexual submission and objectification. Paraphilia anyone?

Some mythical time ago, in the Far East, the first person narrator in Royal Catamite undergoes a transformation due to the imbibing of too much divine seminal fluid. Now there's a thought.

River Rat features a multi-person POV. IMHO, this is the sweetest of the stories. For those of us who adore outlandish comic book type characters, zaftig women, and free love between humans and former humans are in for a distinctly cupcake-with-sprinkles-shaped treat. I read, I chuckled and cooed in delight, and then I raided the refrigerator.

Since I already believe in the veil between the worlds of the Living and those who have passed on, Cardamone did not have to sell me. The Next Bardo brings its first person narrator "back" to another era filled with regret. What's so wonderful about this piece is the details of travel writing, gay marketing, the isolating effects of being closeted, all set against the loss inflicted by the appearance of AIDS.

Dare I say I look forward to reading the next Cardamone collection?


Her Tangh-i-ness

Note: This copy of Pumpkin Teeth was an electronic ARC acquired from an editor upon the reviewer's request. Her Tangh-i-ness reviews on a for-the-love basis. No lucre has been involved.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Review: A Handful of Pearls

A Handful of Pearls
Beth Bernobich
Lethe Press

'Lo Peoples,

I am rather fond of short story collections. So it was no struggle at all to read Beth Bernobich's A Handful of Pearls. I finished it in two sittings which is one of the wondrous things about short stories. For a reader with plenty of time, there is the fun of plunging into a fully-formed world, and then coaxing oneself onwards for a few pages more until one has missed one's bus stop, or the phone rings, or one can't keep one's eyes open any longer.

First, as a writer I must appreciate James Patrick's Kelly's Preface. He makes some observations about the themes Bernobich deals with in her work, namely, secrecy. He has "called it" as some Black people say in urban circles, so I almost have nothing to add there.

I will turn my attention to what I felt were the strongest of the nine stories. Five times, I found myself swept past my critical purview and delivered straight to the land of emotion. And that is simply what memorable stories do. They drop you somewhere and the rest of the world vanishes save for what comes next upon the page. Poison, Remembrance, Marsdog, the title story,A Handful of Pearls, and Jump to Zion paraded characters struggling with the weight of their desires. Daksa, a true hermaphrodite, and Kate, a soon-to-be grieving lover, could have been crushed by theirs but find new beginnings. Jimmy AKA Danu-vil-fa (the Talëdi spiderchild) starts with one desire and ends with another desire he had not given much thought to. Yan Dei moves from desire to desire to desire in his relentlessly self-absorbed manner. The herbalist Adjua desires to save her child, meet the demands of a former lover and a secret benefactor and to pay the price that the god of La Trinète requires from her.

I am delighted when a writer whom I do not know to be a lesbian, a devotee of the Orisha, nor a child molester, nor an alien from Jafal can write a character who is lesbian, or a child-molester, or an Orisha devotee, or an alien, and none of the characters can be stacked upon another the way one might do with Russian nesting dolls. I am as testy as one can get about the portrayals of People of Color and the LGBTQ communities. As ambivalent as I am about someone who is not from the Orisha tradition writing about my religious beliefs, I bristled and prepared to find something in Bernobich's work to grate on my nerves. I found only the word Orisha itself used in a milleu where the word Loa would have served more specifically. It is with great relief that I report this.

On an ending note, I am very much for inclusion of the erotic amongst the experiences characters and readers might share in the course of any fiction. I am grateful that Bernobich carries on the fine tradition of including sex (however delicately) in her work.

Note: This copy of A Handful of Pearls was an electronic ARC acquired from the editor upon the reviewer's request. Her Tangh-i-ness reviews on a for-the-love basis. No lucre has been involved.