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 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 devestation of Canal City. If Leaf is Cardamone’s most
wholesome construct, Canal City is the polar opposite. It almost serves as
another character. 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,
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler