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The Tooth Fairy
Graham Joyce
Tor Books, 320 pages

Art: Uretsky & Eshkar
The Tooth Fairy
Graham Joyce
Graham Joyce was born in 1954 in Coventry, England. He attended Bishop Lonsdale College (B.Ed. with honours), graduating in 1977, and the University of Leicester for an M.A. in 1980. He worked for the National Association of Youth Clubs in Leicester as a youth officer until 1988. The same year, he married Suzanne Johnson, a lawyer. Graham Joyce's other novels include Dark Sister (1992), House of Lost Dreams (1993) and Requiem (1995).

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SF Site Review: The Tooth Fairy

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A review by David Soyka

The occasional school massacre temporarily rivets the nation's attention on the psychological difficulties of adolescence (although the vast majority of us manage to survive it without killing anyone). At least until the next disaster/war/sex-scandal comes along to fill the media fodder, and then the grown-ups tend to forget all that dark stuff and revert to more comforting idealized notions about care-free childhoods. I suspect that one reason why so many adults I know (particularly middle-aged ones) have this nostalgic view of the so-called "Wonder Years" is a reflection of their own disappointment in how their lives have turned out. Adolescence is bursting, in more ways that one, with possibilities. For all too many people, unfortunately, adulthood reeks of dead-ends and unrealized dreams heavily laden with job pressures, mortgage payments, family conflicts, and other burdensome obligations. So it's no wonder there's a tendency to look back fondly on a time when stomachs were flatter and life expectancies longer.

Graham Joyce knows better.

In The Tooth Fairy, Joyce furnishes a marvellous reminder of the inexplicable terrors that lurk within the turbulent physical and emotional transformations of adolescence. Those who think back on their pubescent years as some sort of Golden Age are conveniently forgetting the acne, rejection, and peer cruelty that typically characterizes this transitory awfulness of neither childhood nor adulthood. Graham Joyce provides an excellent reminder not only of how it was, but how it is survived.

The novel focuses on a series of maiming losses that result from the unexpectedly unleashed violence of sexual and social maturation that the human pupa typically endures before emerging -- usually intact but potentially impaired -- from the human chrysalis. Right from the opening page, Joyce lets us know this is no sappy coming-of-age story:

"Clive was on the far side of the green pond, torturing a king-crested newt. Sam and Terry languished under a vast oak, offering their chubby white feet to the dark water... Sam saw the pike briefly. At first he thought he was looking at a submerged log. It hung inches below the surface, utterly still, like something suspended in ice. Green and gold, it was a phantom, a spirit from another world. Sam tried to utter a warning, but the apparition of the pike had him mesmerized. It flashed at the surface of the water as it came up to take away, in a single bite, the two smallest toes of Terry's left foot. The thing was gone before Terry understood what had happened."
The pond and the pike dwelling within its depths provides a recurring motif representing the dangers of unconscious impulses and desires. It is where Sam and his pals Terry, Clive, and later, the aptly named Alice with her wonderland of sexually charged contradictions and shifting loyalties, return to commiserate -- and act upon in not altogether successful ways -- their frustrations, fears, and confusions. It is also where Sam knifes a boy on the verge of sodomizing Clive during a Scout outing gone terribly awry. This is just one example of how Joyce skillfully juxtaposes the image of boyhood innocence and companionship (Scouts) with the darker undertones of masculine bonding and hierarchy (bullying/rape of the weak).

The central guiding image, however, is the Tooth Fairy. Sam sees the Tooth Fairy in the act of taking away a tooth (knocked out by Clive in a silly spat, another of the many symbols of loss that relate violence to physical change) from beneath his pillow, an act of cognition that binds the two in a series of increasingly disturbing events. Now, this isn't the benign Tooth Fairy of childhood yore, but an enigmatic, sexually ambivalent creature capable of kindness and loyalty that is easily triggered into cruel acts of retribution. Sort of your typical boyish id.

Which raises the question of whether the Tooth Fairy is a real entity, or a product of Sam's psychological imbalance triggered by emerging adolescence. You can choose to read it any way you want, but whether the Tooth Fairy exists as a corporeal entity or a delusionary figment is largely beside the point -- real or not, the Tooth Fairy is a potent force that every boy encounters in one form or another. The choices the boy makes in dealing with the encounter will determine whether he grows into a more or less adjusted adult or a psychopath.

The plot twists and turns, and more than a few times leads you places you don't quite expect. To use the book-reviewing cliché, it's a page-turner, as well as providing tremendous and provocative insight into the ordeal of growing up. No matter whether you are in the middle of this ordeal, or long since past it, The Tooth Fairy is a must read. Even for that half of humanity that has never been a boy -- maybe it'll help them understand a little bit better those of us who have.

[Editor's note: For a female perspective, see Margo MacDonald's review of The Tooth Fairy.]

Copyright © 1999 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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