With Teeth by Kristen Arnett

The entirety of my reading last month was devoted to books written by and about members of the LGBTQ+ community. I was so encouraged to read stories that were as diverse as the people they represented. From sweet romantic comedies to searingly personal memoirs, each book provided a glimpse into the lives of their characters in a way that helps to normalize representation in publishing. One book, in particular, captured my attention not because it was particularly inspiring or happy, but because it was brutally honest about the realities of a relationship. I read Kristen Arnett's latest novel With Teeth a couple of weeks ago, but haven't been able to process my thoughts about it until now. 

As the novel begins, Sammie Lucas is still clinging to her dream of building a picture-perfect family. She works tirelessly with her wife Monika to raise their young son Sampson. Despite Sammie's desire to give her son the world, he just doesn't seem to have any connection with her. Monika thinks that Sammie is reading too much into Sampson's behavior, but that does little to shake the fear that she is raising a stranger. These fears are seemingly confirmed early on when Sampson willingly walks off with an unknown man as Sammie looks on with horror. Thankfully, she's able to intervene before any abduction can occur. Still, she couldn't help but notice the way her son smiled at the man as he walked away with him, an expression of happiness that she's rarely seen from the boy. 

That early incident serves as a foreboding glimpse at the tumultuous times to come. As Sampson grows and the years pass, Sammie's relationship with him only grows more distant. To her, there is obviously something off with her son, but numerous therapists, specialists, and even her own wife say the child is perfectly normal. To the outside world, her family is perfect. And isn't that what she always wanted anyway? Behind the facade of perfection, however, lies the truth. Sammie doesn't have the perfect child. Her son barely even talks to her. Worse, her relationship with Monika is slowly spiraling toward an inevitable end. In her quest for normalcy, Sammie is about to find out that normal involves imperfections. In this case, that might also mean the end of her life as she dreamed it. 

There's a moment in Stephen Sondheim's musical Into the Woods when Little Red Riding Hood is rescued from the clutches of the Big Bad Wolf after being seduced into trusting him by his kindness. She sings about learning her lesson and declares that "Nice is different than good." The characters in With Teeth go through a similar journey of discovery. As a lesbian couple, they are bound by the desire to be perceived as normal, just two perfect moms and their well-adjusted son. As their relationships unravel around them, they are faced with learning the lesson that normal is different than perfect. In fact, normal can be downright messy. The discovery of that sentiment is the true power of Arnett's writing. She doesn't shy away from the realities of everyday life. In fact, she revels in showing the disfunction that can come from people just trying to get through the day. With Teeth is a bold reminder that we are all just doing our best to meet the individual challenges we face. Perhaps imperfection then is the most normal thing of them all. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2021, 24)

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 7, 2021 and is filed under ,,,,,,,,. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

25 Responses to “With Teeth by Kristen Arnett”

  1. That would be so hard to feel so disconnected to your child. This sounds like a very emotionally intense read.

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    1. It is emotionally intense, but also balanced with plenty of humor. Even though I knew where the story was going, I couldn't help but keep watching!

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  2. It's interesting that you mention the humor because it definitely sounds like a very intense, and rather stark, read. I'm intrigued by Sampson and am already wondering if he's just self-contained or if there is more going on. Great review, Ethan!

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    1. Thanks! Reading about a couple going through such intense times can be tough, but I also found it a bit cathartic.

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  3. The quest for perfection, can't end well

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  4. Sounds kind of sad (though I love that you quoted Into the Woods)

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    1. There's no happily ever after for this one, which may be why I recalled Sondheim while reading it.

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  5. That this book includes humour in amongst the intense themes is surprising -- but really does make it all the more enticing a read. Brilliant review, Ethan!

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  6. Fantastic review. I don't think I could have said it any better myself - imperfection really is the most normal thing of all. Well done.

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    1. Right? What are we if not imperfect haha

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  7. I love the cover.

    So much trouble comes from trying to maintain a perfect image - the reality is that no one has that. But the added pressure of trying to represent your community in a positive way adds even more pressure.

    Karen @For What It's Worth

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    1. Exactly. Trying to be the poster couple for queer families really was too much pressure to bear.

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  8. I could see why this would take a bit to process since it addresses an individual's ideal about life and relationships, parent-child, and spousal relationships in a realistic way and this can hit home for so many of us.

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    1. I still feel as if I may have been too clumsy with my review to give this book a proper representation, but I'll just embrace the message of imperfection haha.

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  9. Solid last sentence! I love it. We're all imperfect and that's what makes us amazing. I wouldn't want to be friends with someone just like me, or even married to someone that was similar. Where's the fun in that? I also love that you devoted June to LGBTQ+ books and representation! Have you tried One Last Stop my Casey McQuiston? 🔥

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? 💬

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    1. I have! I didn't love One Last Stop as much as her last book, but I still enjoyed it.

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  10. To feel disconnected with your child and have no one believe there's anything wrong would be devastating. I wonder if they ever found out there was an issue with him? It does sound like a disheartening situation.

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    1. I think the issues run much deeper than just the child. There's a lot of self discovery that happens in this one.

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  11. I'm curious to know what the heck was going on with the kid.

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    1. His situation is just the tip of the iceberg with this one!

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  12. This is on my wish list, so I'm really happy you enjoyed it and it left you with a lot to think about. Sounds like a great book for book clubs! And I love that you quoted Into the Woods. "Nice is different than good." SO TRUE!

    Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. This would make such a great book club read! There's so much to unpack and discuss.

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