Pumpkin Teeth – Tom Cardamone (Lethe Press)

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It might be a bit late for Halloween but any time of the year is right for the kind of shudders and chills you’ll find in Tom Cardamone’s Pumpkin Teeth. This collection of short fiction will take to you to worlds you never dreamed of and introduce you to people you’d rather not know existed. And his journeys are fascinating.

Cardamone’s worlds span an impressive range – from the surrealistic dreamscape of “Yolk” to the post-apocalyptic suburbia of “Lotus Bread” and everywhere in between. You’ll meet a guy who accidentally gets mail for his next door neighbor, a sphinx (“It was about the size of a box of checks,” he says), a man who genetically alters himself into a manatee (“Bottom Feeder”), a homeless girl turned superhero (“River Rat”), and a nurse who works at a retirement home for vampires (“Sundowners”).

It’s not just the variety or breadth of ideas that fascinates me in Pumpkin Teeth. What I keep coming back to again and again is their execution. Entertaining ideas and plots are a dime a dozen (well, maybe a quarter a half-dozen), but Cardamone’s writing is so exquisitely right for each one that I swallowed this book whole in the space of a few hours and had to go back and read more carefully to better admire the style. Ray Bradbury (one of my heroes) came to mind, and Cardamone is as adept at blending beauty and oddity as Bradbury ever has been.

And if the pieces mentioned above aren’t enough to pique your interest, try my two favorites on for size. The first is “Suitcase Sam,” a uniquely disturbing story about a junkie named Dio and his lust to see a person … well, if I say any more I’ll be spoiling it, but Cardamone has the literary chops to make even the most disgusting, grotesque images not only palatable but fascinating. In a nightmarish sort of way. The other story I especially loved was “Sick Days,” a picture of suburban anomie whose dread grows and grows as the characters live a seemingly normal life with a couple of slight differences. In the face of the H1N1 “epidemic,” this tale has a special relevance for us.

If you’re interested in going places you might not ordinarily travel or meeting people you won’t run into every day, let Tom Cardamone’sPumpkin Teeth open your eyes and mind to some beautifully described and defined worlds substantially different from your own.

Unless you are a manatee, that is.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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