Tom Cardamone’s life must be an ordinary one indeed—otherwise, how could he conjure such exceptionally unique worlds? From Werewolves of Central Park to his short story collection, Pumpkin Teeth, Cardamone’s imagination has provided some of the weirdest scenarios I’ve ever encountered. His latest novella Green Thumb, the second publication from the speculative fiction press, BrazenHead, happily continues that streak.
Green Thumb is about a plant-like boy named Leaf (…well, duh…) and his friends Scallop and Skate. Scallop is a scaly fisherman’s son and Skate is a manta ray with human eyes. The reason for these genetic aberrations? End times. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic Florida Keys, the backdrop for the boys as they journey to Canal City (a ruined Miami) to find Scallop’s father, who has been taken into slavery by the ruling King of Pelicans (yes, birds).
If all this strains credulity for even spec-fic buffs, let me assure you Cardamone’s skills are such that he not only makes it work, he makes it sing. Cardamone’s prose is absolutely lyrical, and his descriptions of Leaf’s surroundings—in both paradise and squalor—are powerful and rooting, establishing such a firm sense of place, you’d swear you could smell whatever environment he’s in.
But the most accurate and sense-appropriate descriptions would be nothing without character and plot to back them up, and Cardamone comes up aces here as well. Both Leaf and Scallop are wonderfully complex and fully three-dimensional, made so by Cardamone’s morphing biological facts and imperatives into character traits.
By the second chapter, your emotional investment in the innocent, eternally curious Leaf will be so great you’ll follow him anywhere—even into the devastation of Canal City. If Leaf is Cardamone’s most wholesome construct, Canal City is the polar opposite. It’s no surprise that the city is dangerous to Leaf and Scallop, but it damages them in totally different ways. I can’t say more without spoiling things.
My only complaint is that Green Thumb is a novella instead of a full-blown novel. That’s not to say it feels truncated. The story arcs beautifully, and the ending is an entirely appropriate, satisfying, and moving coda. I can’t think of what he could have added that wouldn’t have been gilding the Leaf (sorry…), but—selfish reader that I am—I simply wanted to spend more time in his world.
Green Thumb, then, is a wonder of a read—a unique, emotional, and somehow cautionary tale that deserves your attention. Highly, highly recommended.
© 2012, Jerry L. Wheeler