Book Reviews

Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro

Cutting Teeth“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.” ~ Goodreads

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Debut novel, Cutting Teeth (May 13) is going to have readers either liking the book or hating it. Well, maybe hate is too strong a word. Those without children or not as affluent as the characters (some have criticized this as  “a book about rich, white people problems”) might be left scratching their heads. But parenting woes affect all types. This time, upper-middle class New Yorkers. Looking into the lives of any person is an experience in and of itself, and why we ultimately read.

Looking for a controversial book for your book club to keep things lively? This will do just fine.

These thirty-something characters are not very likable on the surface. What the reader can relate to is their insecurities as parents, friends and ultimately people. Fierro writes in such a candid, brutally honest way, that I was even cringing at times. Because much of what they do and say is real. No sugar coating or pretending to be as perfect as their Facebook posts and pictures. But that type of charade can be exhausting and a lot to keep up with. The personal, alternating POVs cleverly delve into each character’s head to discover how they really feel and give some insight to why they behave the way they do. Many of these characteristics will be recognizable to the reader in someone they know or in themselves.

Tenzin, the Tibetan Buddhist nanny was a brilliant addition to the story. She was so insightful and Fierro captured her voice perfectly. The balance of the selfish, self-absorbed characters with Tenzin’s peaceful, appreciative and kind persona made for a delicious contrast in human behavior. I’ve used “smell the flowers, blow out the candles” for years and her being lost in translation most of the time was humorous. The Dalai Lama quotes were most profound:

“Love is the absence of judgement.”

“Hatred is like a fisherman’s hook. We must not be caught by it.”

“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.”

“Your bad mood serves your enemy.”

Neurotic Nicole was challenging to embrace but one character I really empathized with because I know several people with debilitating OCD and it’s not to be taken lightly. Leigh’s struggle with her son’s sensory, social and developmental delays while nurturing her other “perfect” child was another storyline bravely revealed. Fierro’s character development is nothing short of perfect.

Having children doesn’t come with a manual and pre-existing insecurities don’t go away when they arrive. Sometimes the problems worsen. Sometimes necessary friends emerge in “mommy-hood” and have a lasting presence while some fall away. There are friends that come and go throughout life and it’s no different when you become a parent. The people you meet at those first playgroups are the ones you end up clinging to a bit because you are all navigating a strange new world together. But that doesn’t mean that you really “like” them. You might have never sought them out if it wasn’t for your kids meeting in tot class. And since that specific time is fleeting, remembering to slow down and take each moment as it comes, with grace and without judgement, is the overall message. Just like children develop and “cut teeth” so do the parents.

*Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the uncorrected digital galley. I was not compensated or required to review this book.

To learn more about Julia Fierro and upcoming events, please visit her site here.

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