By Julia Fierro
(St. Martin’s Press)
To circumcise or not to circumcise? Breast or bottle? These are the hot topics discussed on the elitist playgrounds in this progressive debut. Women of an older generation bewildered by the pace of societal change, stay away! When a playgroup of thirtysomething New Yorkers decide to spend Labor Day weekend at a beach house with their toddlers in tow, situations get sticky, secrets are revealed, and tensions escalate. Sharing the realism of an Anne Tyler novel, Cutting Teeth showcases the dark sides of people living in a bubble of compliance—if you add black skinny jeans and homemade hummus. Animosity mounts and mixes. Aloe is applied generously. Repressed sexual angst sits thick on a slice of gluten-free pie. And couples who’ve gone way past the honeymoon phase must deal with the flaws of their friends and partners stuck in the insular confines of their shabby Long Island getaway.
The characters are well-drawn and abundant, each with their individual quirks, but they also share the paranoid stresses associated with parenting: Band-Aids on boo-boos, public breastfeeding, and blood-sucking ticks carrying Lime’s Disease. There’s OCD Nicole, the neurotic, apocalypse-obsessed weekend hostess, prone to cutting and sneaking weed; Allie and Susanna, artist moms to twins boys with another baby on the way; Leigh, the playgroup’s resident debutante, a “Grace Kelly-esque” blue-blood/mother of the developmentally delayed Chase; stay-at-home-dad Rip, the lone male in the group who “calls himself a feminist too often and with too much gusto”; and sultry, unpredictable Tiffany, the wild card, mother to a diva-in-training daughter. The fun is watching the interplay between a range of personalities as their various perspectives come forth in thought and dialogue. When potty training and the waiting lists of highly coveted pre-Ks are the only the common denominator within such limited living space, a clash of personalities is inevitable.
Fierro’s characters are intensely real, thoroughly developed. They come to life on the page. And unlike Anne Tyler, with her descriptions of insular Southern life, Fierro, who lives in Carroll Gardens and founded the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, writes for the urban Whole Foods crowd. Her writing is not only smart—it’s also sexy, and magnetic. Whether it’s “Measles in Park Slope” or “Mumps in Midwood,” Cutting Teeth offers a colorful timestamp of urban concerns. It’s about what we give up to build a family and how much we hold back. It exposes the vulnerability we risk in having children. Not all the insights are kind, but that’s what makes it believable.