Thursday, February 7, 2013

Frozen by Carla Tomaso

Book:  Frozen
Author:  Carla Tomaso
Publisher:  Carma Publishing

Back in the day, as a twitchy little dyke-in-training, there were three pieces of celluloid noir that rocked my corn-fed world. 

The first was the 1978 mini-series The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, starring the spellbinding and insanely creepy Bette Davis.  The second was the 1955 cult classic, Violent Saturday, which managed to feature both an eerie music score by Hugo Friedhofer and the scary Ernest Borgnine as an Amish farmer with an axe to grind.  And, the third and final was the disturbing 1932 adaptation of The Island of Doctor Moreau called Island of Lost Souls, which starred Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi, and Richard Arlen.

Surely there were much scarier movies out there, like The Exorcist and Wait Until Dark, but these three clearly made the Skeeve-O-Meter in my head ping so hard it nearly broke through.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I was reacting to was an innate childhood fear of blind adherence to convention, being pushed into doing something otherwise inconceivable, and selfishly doing something because I could, not because I should. 

Let me take a minute to explain the last one because it’s oddly relevant to this review:  The H. G. Wells classic, The Island of Doctor Moreau was written less than forty years after Darwin’s On the Origins of Species. Throughout the story, the author examines the qualities that separate humans from animals, and eventually comes to the conclusion that we may not be as different as we appear.  In fact, Wells suggests that human and bestial qualities rest under the surface of all life, and only the shell of our flesh separates the species.  

Talk about grotesque variations on a theme….

While H. G. Wells might have considered it “an exercise in youthful blasphemy,” The Island of Doctor Moreau addresses a wide array of themes that are every bit as relevant today as they were in 1896.  Where some of these themes, such as the necessity of laws in society, the need for conscience in human nature, and survival of the fittest, get to the very root of humanity, other themes get to the true nature of what happens when humans do things because we can, and not because we should.  These include:

  • Identity – While identity is inherent in each human and animal, when it is intentionally damaged or forcibly removed, it will result in the evolution of societal monsters.
  • Nature versus nurture – To what extent can behaviors truly be modified as the result of positive or negative nurturing?
  • Science and ethics – Science can radically and profoundly change human life, but at what point does what humans can do radically outstrip our understanding of what we should do? 

Carla Tomaso’s Frozen, is a psychological tilt-a-whirl full of rich clichés, lusty taboos, and jacked-up science that speaks to the very essence of those themes presented in The Island of Doctor Moreau. 

Elizabeth hates her narcissistic and filthy rich mother, Helen, and wants the vicious old bat to kick the bucket. Oh, and she also wants her mom to say she loves her. Suffice it to say, Elizabeth is a lesbian with serious mommy issues. But, when Helen passes away during the NBC Nightly News With Katie Couric, Elizabeth’s life takes a hard left turn from the long awaited hope for closure. It seems that Helen and her prized copy of Mommie Dearest have been cryogenically frozen, and the only way for Elizabeth to access the willed fortune is to thaw her out, reanimate her, and raise her from a child. 

Elizabeth is torn between the joy of being free from her mother, and the yawing abyss of never having her love. But, hope springs eternal. Believing she can raise the mother she always wanted, Elizabeth brings the young Helen home. While the power dynamic between mother and daughter is altered, very little changes between the two.  Helen, most certainly doesn’t change in spite of the nurturing Elizabeth offers. In many ways she’s more narcissistic, more entitled, and more manipulative now that she has the perceived innocence of a child and the experiences and knowledge of an adult.  As Elizabeth’s life spirals further and further back into the familiar patterns of frustration and inadequacy, Helen spirals further and further into the worst possible version of herself.


By the end, one of the two women is finally able to chew a hole through her psychoses, and realize change through the barest hint of insight into the harsh realities of identity, nature, and frontier ethics. 

The other? Yeah, well, not so much. 

Frozen is a smart-mouthed, fast-paced tragicomedy full of literary left turns, bent anathemas, and twisted malfeasance that defy all manner of natural order.  The plot is fresh and irreverent, and full of gay and straight societal taboos.  Love is manipulated, fidelity is fleeting, honor is inconvenient, dead bodies are melted in vats of noxious chemicals, and cats are tortured, but not killed.

There’s also lots of shopping.

The characters of Elizabeth and Helen are well rounded, richly conceived, and delightfully flawed at all levels. They offer a familiar point/counterpoint, and the pendulum of power between the two swings wildly, often at the most unexpected times. As the protagonist, Elizabeth is dynamic in a surprisingly slow, plodding fashion, while Helen, the static, antagonistic anti-hero, rolls through the story like a vainglorious flash flood.

The secondary characters enter stage left; deliver their lines on cue; and disappear until their next scene. For the most part, they enable the flaws within each of the central characters, while also managing to offer wonderful snippets of conventional and not-so-conventional wisdom. Minerva, Elizabeth’s ex, floats around the periphery of the twisted mother/daughter relationship, symbolically representing the “push me pull you” aspects of their toxic association.

Carla Tomaso isn’t like most authors populating the Lesbiverse, and Frozen isn’t your stereotypical piece of lesbian fiction.  This novel addresses some pretty heavy themes, all the while poking convention, deviant behavior, and societal norms in the belly with a souvenir spoon.  I suspect that readers looking for happy-go-lucky romances chock full of saucy sex scenes most likely won’t find a love match with this one, but adventurous readers who love the snap of sarcasm will have a ball with this gutsy page-turner. 

Frozen was a surprisingly delicious treat, and I’m giving it a solid 4.9 out of 6.0 on the Rainbow Scale.


  1. Great review, Salem. It seems that the author might also be drawing nature vs. nurture parallels for sexual orientation? This is as much a great essay topic as it is a plot for a novel. Thanks, as always, for your insights.

  2. I loved this novel. Ms. Tomaso is a skilled, accomplished writer and this book represents years of patient, persistent re-writing until it finally emerged as this wonderfully-crafted finished product.