After reading Arnett’s previous novel Mostly Dead Things, I knew that I was in for a fair amount of dysfunction in With Teeth. Where Mostly Dead Things deals with family dysfunction, With Teeth takes it up a notch and adds relationships on top of family. The result is a novel that I had to read carefully, and never before bed, because I discovered that the story prompted vivid nightmares from my past.
Everything in this story is a mess: parenting, marriage, friendships and romantic connections, everything between Samandra (Sammie) and the people around her seems to be the kind of mess you would find on the restroom floor at a rural Texas Roadhouse, and as I read I got to watch her alternate between trying to clean it up and trying to live with it. Neither turn out particularly well; she just kind of smears things around.
Front and center from the very beginning is the disaster of raising a child. Throughout the book Sammie has to face that her son is different, that something is wrong, and she wonders how much of that is due to genetics, or perhaps having two moms, or just how they are raising him without being on the same parenting page. Their son takes full advantage of this division and over time behaves in ways that causes the rift between his moms to widen, throwing more damage on the fire of Sammie’s life.
I loved how Arnett made this book ooze Florida. If you haven’t lived in Florida or visited beyond the theme parks you might not pick up on some of it but I could feel how hot and sticky the days were. I could see the roads and places they drove through in the Orlando area. The visits to the 7-Eleven. Publix! I’ve lived in Florida since 2010 and Arnett’s books wrap their arms around me and really make me feel the mosquitos biting me as I walk through the wet blanket/buttered air. This is absolutely a compliment.
With Teeth is a book for our time. It makes no attempt at a happy ending. It says that being married, having kids, trying to make connections, it all actually sucks and that maybe if we face that, especially when things are bad, we can move forward and do our best, even if our best is just terrible. I hope this is one of many books that Arnett will write that will fly in the face of the happily ever after family and show the gritty underbelly of what love can really be. I know I’ll be there to read whatever she writes.
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