Author: Julia Fierro
Genre: general fiction
Published: expected May 13 2014
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
One of the most anticipated debut novels of 2014, Cutting Teeth takes place one late-summer weekend as a group of thirty-something couples gather at a shabby beach house on Long Island, their young children in tow.
They include Nicole, the neurotic hostess terrified by internet rumors that something big and bad is going to happen in New York City that week; stay-at-home dad Rip, grappling with the reality that his careerist wife will likely deny him a second child, forcing him to disrupt the life he loves; Allie, one half of a two-mom family, and an ambitious artist, facing her ambivalence toward family life; Tiffany, comfortable with her amazing body but not so comfortable in the upper-middle class world the other characters were born into; and Leigh, a blue blood secretly facing financial ruin and dependent on Tenzin, the magical Tibetan nanny everyone else covets. These tensions build, burn, and collide over the course of the weekend, culminating in a scene in which the ultimate rule of the group is broken.
Cutting Teeth captures the complex dilemmas of early mid-life—the vicissitudes of friendship, of romantic and familial love, and of sex. It confronts class tension, status hunger, and the unease of being in possession of life's greatest bounty while still wondering, is this as good as it gets? And, perhaps most of all, Julia Fierro’s thought-provoking debut explores the all-consuming love we feel for those we need most, and the sacrifice and self-compromise that underpins that love.
All this is packed into a page-turning, character-driven novel that crackles with life and unexpected twists and turns that will keep readers glued as they cringe and laugh with compassion, incredulousness, and, most of all, self-recognition. Cutting Teeth is a warm, whip-smart and unpretentious literary novel.
A close examination of a small group of interconnected people, Fierro's intense debut isn't afraid to create unlikeable characters or uncomfortable situations for those same characters. It's a book primarily concerned with the associations between these complicated people; how they hide from one another, use one another, need one another, and sometimes love one another. It's not a cheery read, but it is honest and realistic. Set over the course of one seemingly-normal weekend playdate, the author uses a rotating POV to illustrate that, despite their differences, how alike these people are.
Julia Fierro's unflinching look at mid-life relationships may not have been written with me as the target demographic (as an unmarried twenty-something), but this quietly intense story is hard to put down. It's in the trainwreck kind of literature -- like with Revolutionary Road, this is a group of characters you're relieved to view at a distance. It's an interesting read, but these people are draining. They're all loud, demanding, selfish. They're full of whims and cruelty, personal history and hidden agendas. Fierro makes their interpersonal conflicts full varied tensions and reasons, and watching Tiffany argue with Susannah is pointedly a wholly different kind of conflict than when Michael and Rip disagree. It's a complete picture of a group of very flawed, very real people. It may not be comfortable, but it's authentic.
I did feel that the novel would...wander on occasion. There's a certain lack of plot for pretty much the entire novel that hampered my overall enjoyment of the story being told. While their conflicts and interactions are interesting and diverse, Cutting Teeth felt mostly like a series of cycling arguments and reactions between the adult characters. The only external tension is supplied via a frankly laughable internet-conspiracy-theory plotline that drives only one character. The book has its moments of humor, wit, and wisdom, but it can also feel adrift in its own narrative(s). I also wasn't fond of the nanny plotline -- the fighting over who got to "keep" or "have" her was just unnecessary.
That said, if you love a character-driven examination of how people relate to one another, you need look no further. If something like Games to Play After Dark or Revolutionary Road are your kind of fiction, Cutting Teeth is a perfect fit in that thought-provoking vein of storytelling.