Encapsulate the book in one sentence? I’ll let the book cover do it: Tales of Homosexual Wonder and Woe. Intriguing, tell me more. Tom Cardamone’s second collection of short fiction — gay speculative fiction with dark, weird undertones. Personal Choice, Book-Pot, Re-read…? Not only personal choice but a pre-order (and only about five books a year earn such a thing.) You may or may not recall my review of Cardamone’s first collection, Pumpkin Teeth, some time ago, in which I gushed effusively. I’ve been looking forward to another collection ever since. What genre would you say it is? Cardamone’s stories are actually quite hard to categorise. The most obvious label for his stories is queer, but I mean that as far more than simply a comment on the sexuality of his characters. Cardamone’s brand of queer runs bone-deep to the unnervingly off-kilter, shady edges of a world that tips vertiginous on a queasy knife-edge of weird. Did you finish it? Did it work for you? For me, Night Sweats doesn’t supplant Pumpkin Teeth, which I count as a pretty much unassailable work of brilliance, but it a great collection that I whole-heartedly recommend. My highlights were:
The Ice King does queer-supervillain brilliantly, with a whole bunch of world-building that makes me want to see Cardamone carry on expanding this as a series. Mama Bear, an arch-villainess who tucks the other supervillains under her wing, and morphs into a male bear and fucks the Ice King, is just basically fuckin’ awesome, and the ending is just the right side of sweet. (Sweet–betcha didn’t think I’d be using that word to describe a Cardamone story, did ya?) The story that follows it, Kid Cyclops, is just as good, occurring within the same world but telling the story of a generation of mutant giant children. It’s darker than Ice King, and would make a kick-ass novel.
Mutinous Chocolate is erotica done the Cardamone way, which is to say it’s sensuous, nihilistically fucked-up, and gorgeously written. Magic-infused chocolates introduce the recently-broken-up protagonist to a series of sexual delights beyond his imagination with a string of mythically-transfigured lovers. This is how erotica should always be, by the way: evocative, rich and entirely lacking in rubbish euphemisms for genitalia.
Opening story Owl Aerie, which is a sort of domestic-gothic, magic-realist tale of a town upon which owls confer luck and status. This showcases Cardamone’s excellent ability to weave speculative fiction into a queer coming-of-age narrative, though the reason I’ve listed this third despite being the first is that despite it’s excellence it also exemplifies something I found myself feeling about several other of the stories in this book: it should be longer. As a self-contained short story Owl Aerie is great, but it also feels like the start of a brilliant novella like Green Thumb, and the same is true of stories MS Found In A Bookstore and (as I already mentioned) Kid Cyclops. (I don’t necessarily mean this as a criticism, and if I did, saying ‘I wish this went on for longer’ is probably not the worst one in the world to receive.)
Give me a good quote: “Though the attic was a world unto itself, a place without order of rules, I was no angelic gatekeeper, but as lost and as mystified as the customers. Here time stopped and treasure floated to the surface among a sea of books, boxes of books, rickety gray splintered shelves poured forth a waterfall of volumes, manuscripts, letters–and the customers, mouths agape, not knowing what to do with their hands so fingers hung in the air, vibrating like humming bird wings until they could gather the courage to alight on the flower that blossomed within their heart: the hand-scrawled manuscript of the last book of an incomplete trilogy, the author dead of cirrhosis. The coveted children’s book, title long forgotten, opened to the very page that set their dreams afire. Signed editions long sought, privately published ancestral memoirs, always what the customer was looking for. Always.” Is it available today? Out now from the excellent Bold Strokes Books. Soundtrack of choice: Perfume Genius – Queen.