Review: Krakow Melt, by Daniel Allen Cox

>>Published: August 2010

>>Finally got around to it: January 2011

This was the Euro Disney of cemeteries, a necropolis. Death is done right in Poland, and I don’t mean that with any disrespect. I mean that angels are sculpted of marble, not granite, tombs are kept clean and accessible, the catacombs and columbariums pristine. Corpse names are written in fonts so sexy they make you want to cum. The architecture of remembrance is not left to lie fallow, not here. The parents of Pope Jan Pawel II were buried here, but that wasn’t why we’d made the trip.

Dressing in black to visit a cemetery is cliché, but when the purpose of your visit is to candle-bomb the place, it’s just practical. Stealth is prime in such situations.

***

Incendiary is an easy word to toss around with any book that strives to make a political or social statement, that features protagonists who seek to dismantle the oppression of a religious belief structure, a regime, or most destructive of all, an idea. The idea that one way of living is right, and another is wrong. Amoral. To be judged and deemed as something less than human—less than respectable. With Krakow Melt, incendiary is of critical merit, not only because of the social strata that Cox paints with a gasoline-soaked brush, but because of the methods by which his heroes tackle that which would deny them their basic human rights—to be as free, socially and sexually, as they want to be.

Cox’s protagonist, Radek, is a bisexual artist living in Poland in 2005, where he practices parkour and firebombs popsicle-stick sculptures of cities—the consummation of cultural norms through the ultimate means of destructive expression. Together with Dorota, a literature student who finds herself absorbed by what Radek’s radicalism represents, they explore one another and attempt to define for themselves where their desires fit in a predominantly homophobic culture that would seek to destroy them rather than understand them.

Radek’s passion for fire and the equalizing power it represents comes from his interest in the art of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who in their careers together have wrapped the Reichstag in a woven polypropylene fabric, created a 39.4 kilometre fence out of white nylon that ran through the hills of Marin and Sonoma counties, and generally altered the topographical face of the earth for their art. With Dorota at his side, he continues to question ways in which, through fire and by vaulting past the crumbling edifices of a Poland entrenched in fear and homophobia, his art can make any sort of difference.

At a lean 151 pages, Krakow Melt is, in its own way, an incendiary device—a book of ideas and the allure of destruction as a means to bring order and balance to a society. To, quite literally in some cases, level the playing field. Cox writes with a pace he expects his characters to match, never lingering on any one thing for far too long. And when violence, vulgarity and brutality are employed in the service of the narrative, it is done with the same speed, the same sense of shock and surprise that the story has been structured upon, mashed together and unfortunately bereft of sincere depth. Radek and Dorota are surface artists, composed of ideas that burn, and burn quickly, but without the tertiary layers of skin that one would hope to discover once the ashes have been brushed away. Then again, in a book this svelte, packed with anger and condemnation for such anachronistic ideals, maybe the surface is all that needs to burn—because maybe there aren’t any more layers to the world than that.

You’re afraid or you’re not.

You understand or you want to run away, cry foul, shout that the way others are living their lives isn’t what you think is right and they need to be judged for their sins.

Krakow Melt is a firebomb of Cox’s own creation, one that burns and burns brightly for its duration, yet holds back in the end, refraining from peeling away the blackened and charred flesh and showing us just how deep the horror show goes.

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