By Lois Kennedy
Pumpkin Teeth is an anthology of stories. For example “Bottom Feeder” involves a man who willingly becomes a sea creature in a tank; in “Sundowners” a woman works at a nursing home for extremely old vampires; “Sick Days” is the tale of a plague that kills most of the world’s children, leaving those with surviving kids ostracized; “The Next Bardo” describes a journalist tracking down a phantom gay bar.
The most striking thing about the stories is their ambiguity. Just when the story starts making sense, it ends abruptly. Also interesting is how the stories are dreamlike. The imagery seems straight out of a nightmare; in the story “The Sphinx Next Door,” an initially humorous story about a man with a sphinx for a neighbor (he avoids her because of “all those riddles”) turns unsettling. The sphinx invites him in wordlessly and he shares a giant cherry with her: “Her leonine face was an enigmatic canvas of perfect disdain. Casually working her jaw, she spat out the pit as I placed the other cherry between my teeth and pulled the stem. As I bit down, a fiery bile rose in my throat, and I accidentally swallowed the fruit whole.”
Cardamone has a gift for lovely, heartrending detail; in “Lightning Capitol” a boy makes an odd discovery: “Taking the fallen star to my chest I let him feel my fearful heartbeat, confused and rapid. I hold him there and look up, searching for his home. The sky is intermittently black, a fast petroleum pool pricked with the ice of stars, smeared with clouds, but I cannot find an empty space, a hole, a ruptured and blown-out bracket.” He also has some genuinely creepy moments, like in “Suitcase Sam”; the titular creature is a limbless former person who volunteered for a life of pure dependence and servitude (and the ability to fit in a suitcase): “At first the room looked like it was filled with proud parents, milling about as their babies frolicked on the floor. My initial thought was of infants, their floundering movements and hairless heads. No, the heads were too large, and only the ones on their backs floundered about; any Suitcase Sam upright scrambled oddly fast, raised slightly on their nubs, sideways like a crab. Very fast one came at me, red open mouth a vacuum-like wound.”
My gripes are few. My biggest issue is the typos, omitted words, and misplaced commas. Overall, it’s a compelling, intense read. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something creepy, funny, and wonderfully original.