Finally, a book for the pyromaniac in all of us. Who else
but Daniel Allen Cox could combine a bisexual Polish activist, popsicle-stick
replicas of 1871 Chicago and 1906 San Francisco ripe for conflagration, the
dying Pope John Paul II and Pink Floyd and come up with a compelling, essential
read? Um—no one, that’s who.
Radek is a bisexual artist who believes fire is the great
equalizer, making his living by igniting his intricately detailed recreations of
great city blazes for university classes and other fans of performance art. He
meets Dorota, a literature student and fellow pyromaniac, and together they
buck the system, the church, the establishment and their enemies to find each
other and sexual freedom.
Cox’s greatest strength is his narrative style: avant-garde
descriptive with enough grounding in realism to scare the hell out of you. His
2006 Poland is gritty, grimy and dangerous to queers, yet they emerge from dank
apartments smelling of cabbage to join in a prideful March of Tolerance that
degenerates into a shit-throwing spectacle.
gathered every slimy piece of feces she could find—wiping it
marchers, herself—and slung it wildly at the crowd. She even
over heads to aim curveballs at the neo-Nazis on the fringe…
sirens, and the beautiful sounds of police beating their riot shields
batons. Rescue. Only they came right at us, hitting and kicking
and dykes and gender-nonconformists and the bisexual threat,
us into pockets of solidarity and then breaking us up until we
alone and defenceless, pulling our hair and dragging us down the
Amazing stuff, this. But no more amazing than the sly,
threatening surgical notes on Pope John Paul II’s tracheotomy, the blaze from
Chicago 1871 or the witty musings and critical asides on Pink Floyd (“…if you
think ‘Comfortably Numb’ is Pink Floyd’s best song, then you’re a
lightweight”). Even more amazing is how Cox pulls these disparate elements together
into a fascinating narrative as foreboding as it is forward-thinking.
If I have a criticism, it’s that the damn thing is too
short—but I get that too. The most interesting fires are quick and intense,
leaving ashen memories, and that’s the way Krakow Melt burns. That’s also mirrored in the relationship
between Radek and Dorota, and you just know Radek has to flame out in the end.
Has to. But it’s a surprise even when it happens.
Cox’s first novel, Shuck,
set him up as a writer to be reckoned with and he suffers no sophomore slump
here. His voice grows stronger and more assured with each effort. So drop what
you’re reading right now, turn your face towards the white hot Krakow
Melt and let Cox crackle your flesh.
It’s just the bonfire to start your Fall reading season.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler