Desert Isle Keeper
Stuff, The second Bristol Collection novel after Junk, celebrates the artfully quirky as an ultra-outgoing optimistic British commoner and an upper-class recluse find love over an odd collection of stuff.
When Tobias “Mas” Maslin ducks into Perry Cavendish-Fiennes’ Cabbages and Kinks hodgepodge emporium in order to elude a another store’s security guard bent on capturing him, Mas is immediately struck by the racks of vintage clothes and other intriguing artifacts. Perry, who has inherited the store from an aunt and must keep it open for a year in order to get his inheritance, has a more proprietary air about his inventory; for example, he shuns price tags because they mar the items.
The jobless Mas strikes a deal with Perry: If he can organize the shop and make a profit on the stuff for sale, he can have room, board, and a share of the profit. Reluctantly Perry agrees, mostly because Perry would rather spend time creating his art than running the shop.
Each man in his own way is delightfully fanciful. Mas is the irrepressibly out-and-proud gay man who luxuriates in his joie de vivre. He loves sex and sexual innuendo, irrepressibly tossing suggestive bon mots into his conversation like so much confetti.
The much more conservative-looking Perry sparkles through his metal sculptures – strange, often mechanical, animals and hanging fairies. His assemblages are part steampunk and part Day of the Dead, using skulls and vintage metal bits and pieces as fodder for their exoskeletons.
At first Perry is suspicious of the spritely, boastful Mas, but soon learns that while Mas is a British P. T. Barnum, he’s also a hard, determined worker. Soon the slender, shorter Mas has organized the bits and pieces in Perry’s shop and is planning an open house event to announce the new, improved Cabbages and Kinks to Bristol.
Both Mas and Perry are delightful characters, ones that readers will want to meet in real life. Chatterbox Mas who celebrates his sexuality is the perfect foil for Perry, who swears he isn’t gay but is instantly attracted to Mas. After a stiff upper lip childhood, Perry needs someone to hug and nurture him, and the irrepressible Mas is just the man to fawn over him, complimenting him on his artistic talents and showering him with attention. Perry for his part sees Mas as more than a twink and a flake – someone without substance – and treats him with respect.
Cabbages and Kinks, a marvelous word-play on the poem in Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (which is a wonderful reference to the twins in Junk), contains the interesting, unique bits and pieces from past eras, the kinds of kitsch that is grounded in both history and personal memory.
Readers will fall in love not only with a unique pair of characters but also with the environment that makes them shine and thrive.