Fire is a funny thing. It can hide in walls and then leap out in full blaze; it can skip, weave, and defy expectation, or bear down with relentless might. In many ways other than heat, fire is most suitable for likening to that other primal force, sexuality.
Daniel Allen Cox's second novel, Krakow Melt, takes the metaphor of fire as sex and runs with it--all the way to Poland in the immediate wake of the last Pope's death. John Paul II was a national hero to the Poles, not only because the pontiff was one of their own, but also because he was an indefatigable foe of communism.
But freedom in Poland following the collapse of the Soviet Union is not universal. Skinheads roam the landscape; gays have to be careful. The novel's main character, Radek, is one of Poland's gay men, and he's disinclined to hide it; he's amused, early in the book, to find that his landlord suspects him of carrying on an affair with the man's wife.
With this exchange, Cox serves notice that the unpredictable and irrepressible nature of sexuality--so like that of fire--is about to have its way with his characters. Radek is a firebug who enjoys building wooden models of cities as they were just prior to great conflagrations. His attention to detail runs parallel with his wide-ranging intelligence (how many gay men know what a "fornix" is, much less can identify when they've reached it?). Radek is as fearless about provoking the official power hierarchy with his blazing city models--which he considers to be a form of performance art--as he is about flaunting his sexuality before the unofficial authority of Poland's anti-gay masses, even as they whip up into a hysterical frenzy following John Paul II's death--and not least on account of that pope's famously anti-gay views.
Radek's smarts, style, and fascination with fire is reflected in a young woman named Dorota with whom he falls in love. Theirs is not a primarily sexual connection, but she is nonetheless his soul mate; that being the case, a physical intimacy is inevitable. But what conflagration will their union of the flesh ignite?
Cox erases taboo and delineation at every turn, not only in allowing Radek to fall in love with a woman, but in the very style in which he composes the book. Much of Krakow Melt is told in Radek's voice, and he seems to be narrating in real time to an English-speaking audience, substituting terms in his native Polish only when he thinks they serve his meaning better. The result is a volatile book that, while mostly contained and controlled, spills over the edges to create a meta-literary experience. Like fire, Cox's novel illuminates--and singes.
by Daniel Allen Cox
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press. Publication Date: Sept. 1, 2010. Pages: 176. Price: $15.95. Format: Trade paperback original. ISBN-13: 978-1-551-523-729