Cutting Teeth

( 9 )

Overview

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.

Nicole, the hostess, struggles to keep her OCD behaviors unnoticed. Stay-at-home dad Rip grapples 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, can't stop ...

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Cutting Teeth: A Novel

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Overview

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.

Nicole, the hostess, struggles to keep her OCD behaviors unnoticed. Stay-at-home dad Rip grapples 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, can't stop imagining ditching her wife and kids in favor of her art. Tiffany, comfortable with her amazing body but not so comfortable in the upper-middle class world the other characters were born into, flirts dangerously, and spars with her best friend Leigh, a blue blood secretly facing financial ruin and dependent on the magical Tibetan nanny everyone else covets. Throughout the weekend, conflicts intensify and painful truths surface. Friendships and alliances crack, forcing the house party to confront a new order.
Cutting Teeth is about the complex dilemmas of early midlife--the vicissitudes of friendship, of romantic and familial love, and of sex. It's about 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 warm and unpretentious debut explores the all-consuming love we feel for those we need most, and the sacrifice and compromise that underpins that love.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
02/17/2014
Debut novelist Fierro tells a story about the obsessive, competitive, and neurotic behavior of parents in their 30s. The focus is four families who venture to a Long Island beach house for Labor Day weekend. Nicole, a paranoid pot smoker, is trying to avoid taking Zoloft again; Allie and Susanna are newlyweds and expecting; Rip is a stay-at-home father who argues with his wife about buying his little boy a princess dress; Leigh is an heiress trying to maintain the pretense that she has not, in fact, lost her family fortune. Finally, there is Tiffany, who always has the last word and consistently wears the least amount of clothing among the weekenders. As the melting pot of personality churns and Tiffany’s appetite for wreaking havoc grows, jealously, betrayal, and regret slowly overpower any possibility for relaxation. Even though this story is framed to be a cozy and comical slice of life, Fierro’s attempts to relate to the current age of parenting ultimately fall short. (May)
From the Publisher
"When a group of thirty-something parents gather at a ramshackle beach house called Eden, no serpent is required for the sins, carnal and otherwise, to pile up. Fierro, founder of Brooklyn's Sackett Street Writers' Workshop, argued in The Millions last year that writers need to put the steam—and the human sentiment—back into sex scenes in literary novels. You may want to keep Fierro's debut novel on a high shelf, away from children and prudish literary snobs."—The Millions 

"Entertaining, wise, heart-breaking at times, Cutting Teeth is an outstanding debut. Julia Fierro's particular genius is her ability to understand and render the vagaries of the human heart."—Therese Anne Fowler, author of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald "Timely and observant, Julia Fierro’s writing feels like real life. She captures the anxiety of our times with the authority, insight—and humor—of lived experience."—Karen Thompson Walker, author of The Age of Miracles

"Immediately satisfying and emotionally astute. Fierro's writing is clear and precise, and in her hands, this ambitious project, told through different voices, reads as smoothly as a peanut butter sandwich with the crusts cut off."—Emma Straub, author of Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures

"Julia Fierro’s Cutting Teeth offers immense rewards to readers far beyond those who will identify with the frantic, conflicted, yearning parents who fill the novel (though many will). It’s for any reader seeking a tale rich in character, strong in voice and filled with both incisive social critique and a luminous generosity of spirit, a rare combination indeed."—Megan Abbott, author of Dare Me and The End of Everything

"One of the most compelling and trenchant novels I’ve read in years.  A fearless and unrelenting portrait of urban parenting—its nuanced complexities, its ceaseless labor, its rare but transcendent moments of pleasure—done with dark humor, refreshing intelligence, and bottomless empathy."—Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Corpus Christi: Stories

"Funny, warm and dead-on smart, Julia Fierro has written a tremendous novel about the having-it-all generation, now forging their own paths and families. After all the talk and the revolution, after leaning in and shouting it out, the blueprints for creating a balanced life between work and family are still elusive. To most of us. Cutting Teeth reads like a conversation with your best friend, over wine, after the kids have been tucked in, and the truth comes out."—Deborah Copaken Kogan, author of The Red Book

"Julia Fierro's debut novel Cutting Teeth is filled with honesty, humor and intelligence. First, I fell in love with the insightful, graceful voice, then with the complex, deeply flawed yet appealing characters, and finally with the narrative arc that carried me from beginning to end in one rush. Compelling, and infused with compassion."—Jean Kwok, author of Girl in Translation

 

Kirkus Reviews
2014-04-14
The urban-sophisticate mothers of middle-class Brooklyn come under the spotlight in a debut novel set in Eden, the not-so-paradisiacal Long Island beach house where a play group gathers to spend one transformative Labor Day weekend.Needy, obsessive-compulsive and anxious—and that's just the parents in Fierro's satire of contemporary New York child care. Nicole, mother of Wyatt, is continuously wracked with terror over germs and knives but now fears a catastrophe is looming and posts her apprehensions on urbanmama.com; lesbian couple Susanna and Allie are keeping secrets from each other while stressing over who's the real mommy; stay-at-home dad Rip needs his wife, Grace, to want another baby, but she doesn't; and former debutante Leigh, whose son, Chase, has behavioral issues, is unwilling to share her Tibetan Buddhist nanny, Tenzin, with sexy Tiffany, still breast-feeding her bossy daughter, Harper, age 4. As the holiday proceeds and meals, conversations and beach activities go on in the background, Fierro tirelessly pursues her characters' interior dilemmas, moving from one adult perspective to another, each parent preoccupied with sex, money, work, home, partner and, of course, the actual children. While the Americans are all pursuing some elusive future happiness, it is asylum-seeking Tenzin, thousands of miles from her husband and children, who can see the bigger, life-and-death picture and delivers the moral message: "Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from our own actions." Eventually, on the final evening, the claustrophobic pitch of petty tension among this edgy group intensifies, leading to an inevitable but brief riot of panic, bad behavior and repentance.Capable and readable but narrowly focused, Fierro's novel, with its obvious targets, can seem like the literary equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.
From the Publisher
"Readers won't be able to look away." —Booklist
Library Journal
04/15/2014
Before the fall round of activities begins in New York City, Nicole invites the members of her son's playgroup and their parents for an extended weekend at a beach house on Long Island. The grown-ups include stay-at-home dad Rip, who wishes his wife would have another child; Allie, who's thinking of abandoning her wife for her art; and Nicole's best friend, upper-crust Leigh, whose finances are failing. Too much time together makes these mothers and fathers act a lot like their preschool children and brings out the underlying discontents in their lives. The parents, at least, learn valuable lessons. VERDICT In her debut, Fierro, a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, creates a wide variety of characters whose only common ground is their children, effectively capturing the conflicted relationships all parents have with their children and with one another. Readers with children will appreciate especially.—Joanna Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Providence
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250042026
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 5/13/2014
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 314,313
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


JULIA FIERRO is the founder of The Sackett Street Writers' Workshop, which has been a creative home to over 2000 writers since 2002. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she was a Teaching-Writing Fellow, her writing has appeared in Guernica, The Millions, Flavorwire, and other publications, and she has been profiled in The L Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, The Observer and The Economist. Cutting Teeth is her first novel. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their two children.
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Read an Excerpt

babe in the wood

 

Allie

Allie called the playgroup Mommy Camp. This had made Susanna laugh at first, when they were new mothers juggling the fussy twin boys Susanna had birthed, when their clothes, the urban artist’s uniform of all black, showed every spot of spit-up and streak of snot. But lately, Allie’s jokes sounded, even to Allie, like the jabs of an outsider. Instead of life feeling like us vs. them, it felt like Allie vs. Susanna.

They had been driving for over an hour, Levi and Dash asleep in the backseat, when the map on Allie’s phone directed them off the main road. Susanna drove onto a causeway flanked by the wind-whipped waves of the Long Island Sound. The narrow road was dotted with trees; their branches stripped white, gnarled by the salt wind.

“You didn’t say the beach house was this far,” Allie said, as the sun bounced off the water, assaulting her eyes. She sank into the passenger seat and pulled the hood of her black sweatshirt over her head.

She had been up most of the night color-correcting a cover photo she’d shot for a Danish magazine. She was behind on the deadline after their three-day trip (with the boys, Susanna had insisted), to Massachusetts, where they’d been married at the Northampton town hall. Then Levi, the more demanding of their boys, had woken at four this morning, shuffling into their room, his thick honey-dusted hair spilling into his eyes. He had begged to join Susanna and Allie in their bed, and Susanna had relented. Not for the first time, Allie had thought about how Susanna coddled the twin who looked most like her. Susanna and Levi looked as if they belonged on a Swiss mountaintop, herding goats. Yodeling. Dash, the more diminutive twin, took after Allie, or at least after Eric, their beloved sperm donor and good friend whose appearance had matched Allie’s brother. Straight brown hair. Skin so pale you could see the green veins that crisscrossed his temples.

“Oh,” Susanna gushed, “it’s amazing. Should we stop? Look, we can pull over right there and look at the water.”

“Wait. The boys.” Allie sprang forward. “They’ll wake if we stop.”

When the boys had simultaneously fallen asleep in Queens after thirty minutes of gridlock, it had felt like a gift from who-knows-who-or-what. Allie was an atheist, like most of the artists, filmmakers, and designers who made up her and Susanna’s elite New York City circle. Still, she thought, they should wring every drop from the blessing.

“Please,” Allie pleaded softly, “sweetheart. Let’s keep going. I have to pee, and my head is killing me.”

Silently, Susanna accelerated, the eight-month-sized globe of her belly bumping the steering wheel. Allie could see, in the tightness under Susanna’s jaw, that she had, once again, said the wrong thing.

“Maybe the pregnant woman carrying your baby is the one who has to pee,” Susanna said. With the quick-fire anger of a woman in her last term, Allie thought.

“I’m sorry,” Allie said. “That was selfish.”

She couldn’t help adding, “It’s not a competition, you know.” She knew that this, in Susanna’s mind, negated the apology, but Susanna’s tone irked her, the “you-owe-me-big-time” tone Susanna used more and more as she neared the end of her pregnancy.

Our pregnancy, Allie thought, correcting herself, though she preferred to call the pregnancy “the egg swap.” She found levity worked best when describing their situation to her childless friends, all immersed in a world of unscheduled and unbridled creation, and who she bumped into at the few SoHo gallery shows she could get to these days.

Susanna, my partner, is carrying my egg, fertilized with the sperm of our twins’ father, aka, our homo best friend. Ba dum bump! Like a punch line.

Some of these friends, like Allie, had been Susanna’s teachers years ago when she was a student at the Parsons School of Design, and they relished in teasing Allie. You knocked up your student, did ya? This made Allie smile and remember that other Susanna—Susie, she’d corrected Allie (Professor Strong) on that first day of class over a decade ago, her high ponytail swinging.

The sleek European station wagon (Susanna had wanted a minivan of all things, but Allie had prevailed) wound around the curved road. The sun flickered through the canopy of trees, some already splashed with autumn gold, and Allie imagined herself in her studio, painting, mixing colors until she found a match for the green-gold that unfurled like silk streamers above. Hot coffee. Lou Reed. Guilt-free smokes. But the fantasy dissipated as Susanna began to talk about her new business, a rental stroller franchise, Babes-on-the-Go!™.

When Allie had first heard the name of the franchise, she’d responded with another instance of zero self-control.

“You realize, hon,” she’d said, “some yuppie folk might confuse this stroller company with a traveling stripper show. You know? Babes-on-the-Go?”

She had yanked her gray tee up (she’d been braless since college, since coming out) and jiggled her small breasts.

Susanna had said, “not funny,” but when Allie repeated the joke (sans flashing) at a dinner with their art friends, Susanna had laughed the loudest.

Since Babes-on-the-Go! had entered their lives, Allie was expected to watch Dash and Levi on weekends while Susanna descended into the co-op building basement now overrun with the monstrous double strollers and stacks of car seats Susanna rented to desperate Brooklyn parents. Susanna spent hours down there, repairing tires, adjusting alignment, and scrubbing the child travel systems, which is how Allie had heard Susanna describe them when on the phone with a rental customer. Allie was left in charge (Susanna’s favorite phrase these days), and when the boys’ play inevitably turned to roughhousing, she put on a movie. Something a tad too mature, like Spider-Man or Iron Man, guaranteed to keep them subdued in terror. When Allie heard the creak of the stairs, she quickly turned off the TV and gave the boys a double wink before Susanna rose from the basement—her hair curled with sweat, her hands kneading her lower back, her newly popped belly jutting forth. Allie was pretty sure most part-time parents, like herself, used the secret-TV trick when their parenting partners had their backs turned.

They drove by the entrance to a lush overgrown park—Caumsett State Historic Park, the sign read. They were way out in the middle of nowhere, Allie thought, and she’d be screwed if there were crap wireless at the beach house. Her agent was shopping her next book of photography around, the deadline for the Danish cover was in just a few hours, and there was also the panel she was hosting at the upcoming Parsons School of Design Fall Symposium.

“Did I tell you I found a Phil and Ted double stroller?” Susanna said, with an excitement that jolted Allie.

“That’s great,” Allie said, feigning enthusiasm.

Her phone buzzed. Speak of the devil. A message from her agent. A gig shooting female comedians for a magazine layout. Hot, she typed back.

“It’s not just great. It’s really great,” Susanna said, and although Allie could hear the growing annoyance in Susanna’s voice, she continued to text. $?

“You think you could stop that and listen to me?” Susanna asked. “Please? Remember the promise you made? Email-checking, texting, tweeting. Limited this weekend. Okay?”

“Sorry. It’s a work thing,” Allie said, stuffing the phone into the back pocket of her skinny black Rag & Bone jeans.

“You’ll get cancer if you keep carrying that phone on your body,” Susanna said. “Didn’t you read that article I forwarded you? This isn’t just me. This is science talking.”

Allie tossed her phone onto the dashboard, where it slid with a clatter against the windshield. Both women sucked in their breath, shooting glances at the boys in the back. Their collective fear made them smile.

“What pussies we are,” Allie whispered.

She reached over and squeezed Susanna’s hand. Susanna’s face had grown fuller each week and now, with the scheduled C-section only a month away, she looked younger. Her nose was dotted with summer freckles like an apple-cheeked farm girl, and for a moment, with the backdrop of the leaves and overgrown grass on the side of the road, Allie felt a humming desire. She imagined a girlish Susanna (without the belly bump) stretched out on dewy grass, Susanna’s hips bucking against Allie’s face. She was about to dip her fingers under Susanna’s thin cotton maternity skirt when Susanna spoke.

“We need the extra Babes-on-the-Go money,” Susanna said. “For your adoption fees.”

Allie sighed. “I know.”

Susanna was always reminding her that Allie would have to adopt the baby once it was born. As if what Susanna really wanted to say was, Sure, it’s your egg, but it’s still my baby.

“And so you can take off work,” Susanna added, and Allie felt Susanna waiting for a response.

She wasn’t going to talk about that again. She couldn’t take more than two weeks off, and that was final.

She pulled her hand out of Susanna’s.

“Your hands are like mini freaking heat pads,” she said.

A pregnant woman’s body temperature rises ten degrees above normal, she remembered. Just one of the pregnancy facts Susanna shared daily.

“I know you think the stroller business is duller than dull,” Susanna said.

“You’re not dull,” Allie said, sighing.

“I didn’t say I was dull,” Susanna said.

Allie thought she heard a small indignant huh. As in, so that’s what you think of me.

“I’m glad you have something to do besides take care of the boys,” Allie said, eager to shift the mood. “Maybe you can save the stroller rental money and get more babysitting hours. And then,” she paused, daring herself, “you can get back to your art.”

Susanna sighed. “The boys are my art for now. I have the rest of my life to be selfish.”

Allie felt Susanna’s eyes leave the road and flash to her face.

“Plus,” Susanna said, now more sweetly, “I don’t think there’s enough room for two artists in this family.”

Allie stared ahead. She wasn’t going to give Susanna’s passive-aggressive BS a reaction.

Susanna leaned over the steering wheel and looked up at the sky, a perfect blue corridor running between the trees.

“But it is so beautiful here. I mean, really,” she said. “Don’t you think?”

And for a moment, as she let the sunglasses slip down her nose, Allie could forget Susanna’s question was a test, and she could see the beauty. The restless white-tipped waves tossing driftwood—a bleached-out black-and-white photograph waiting for Allie’s capture. The tree canopy shimmering like aged bronze. The sky that cerulean blue paint they had brought back from Venice in their life before children. The sunlight that yellow from Sedona, hand-mixed by a tired old Navajo woman. Places they wouldn’t visit again for years, not until the boys had grown, not until the care of this new baby—my baby, she reminded herself—had become manageable. The thought of the dirty-diaper, runny-nose, tantrum-filled delay, the unreachable future freedom, suddenly exhausted her.

“We could move here,” Susanna said.

Allie knew it had taken courage for Susanna to say this because if there was one disagreement they had worn to death, it was the city vs. the ’burbs debate.

“The city is close enough,” Susanna continued. “I looked it up online. There’s a direct train. Forty-five minutes to Penn Station.”

“It is pretty,” Allie tried, too tired to get into it, to recite her usual lines. “Maybe someday.”

“We don’t want to wait until the boys are too old. They might get used to the city. Levi cries when he sees a mosquito!” Susanna laughed, and it clanged false to Allie.

“Levi cries about everything.” Allie knew she had said it too loudly because Susanna threw a glance over her shoulder.

“You need to be more thoughtful,” Susanna said. “He could’ve heard you.”

Allie often forgot that the boys had grown old enough to listen, to learn, to repeat, to have their feelings hurt. No longer impulsive cavemanlike toddlers immune to threat or negotiation. Susanna had lectured Allie on how, sometimes, honest can be too honest.

“What was your favorite thing about yesterday?” Allie asked.

“Nice topic change,” Susanna teased. “You think I don’t know you by now?” But she smiled when she said it and reached over and squeezed Allie’s hand, bringing Allie’s fingers to her bow-shaped lips.

Levi had the same lips, Allie thought. Both Susanna’s and Levi’s bottom lip quivered when they cried. The day before at the courthouse in Massachusetts, when the judge had declared them legally wed, Susanna’s lip had seemed to tremble, then she had thrown her arms around Allie’s neck, her abundant belly pressing into Allie’s diaphragm. For a moment, Allie hadn’t been able to breathe. Then she’d been swaddled in that sweet scent that was Susanna’s alone, that Allie had loved for nearly twelve years. Like a newly flowering almond tree.

Usually iffy about public affection, Allie had reminded herself all day. Hold Susanna’s hand. After the courthouse, at the bohemian-chic restaurant where they’d brunched with Eric, who the boys called Daddy and who had traveled to Northampton for the ceremony, and the boys in the matching seersucker suits Susanna had picked out (Allie had lobbied for blazers and skinny jeans). Kiss her. Tell her you love her. Allie hated that she had to remind herself to do these things, but, as she had told Susanna many times, it was who she was. It was how Allie’s people were made. On holidays, Susanna’s family greeted each other with kisses on the lips. Allie’s father had never and, it seemed, could never, tell Allie or her brother he loved them. As kids, they had taunted him, repeating, “I love you, Dad! I love you, Dad!” until he had shouted at them to cut it out.

“Okay, I’ll go first,” Allie said with a deep sigh, as if she was clearing the air. “My favorite part was how hot you looked in your fancy schmancy Diane Von Furstenburg maternity dress.”

Susanna smiled, and Allie thought she saw a release in Susanna’s grip on the steering wheel.

“Thanks for wearing the corsage,” Susanna said. “I know you didn’t want to.”

Eric, a lover of all things beautiful, who threw elaborate dinner parties and whose Chelsea studio apartment was never without a vase or two of fresh flowers, had surprised them with a bouquet of white calla lilies for Susanna. And a single white lily corsage for Allie.

“For you, baby?” Allie said. “I’ll stick a flower in my lapel.”

She slid her hand over Susanna’s belly—her fingers, the nails gnawed, looked child-sized against the cloth-draped orb.

“How’s our baby girl?” Allie asked.

“Oh, don’t start that again,” Susanna said and shook her head slowly, as if Allie was a disobedient child who should know better.

“I know,” Allie said, “and you know, you want a girl too.”

“I truly don’t care. As long as it’s healthy.”

It had been Susanna’s idea to keep the sex of the baby a surprise, and that was fine, Allie thought, but Susanna’s feigned indifference toward the penis vs. vagina preference sounded a bit holier-than-thou to Allie.

“Lace-trimmed socks,” Allie cooed as if teasing one of the twins. “Pink bows in ponytails. And those ruffly underwear you see sticking out from under their little dresses. What do you call those things?”

“Bloomers?” Susanna laughed, and Allie was relieved to see her easy smile.

Then Susanna let out a wet-sounding belch and winced.

“You okay? Need to pull over?” Allie asked.

“I’m fine,” Susanna said through a slow exhale.

She sniffed furiously at her wrist, the inside of which, Allie knew, Susanna dabbed with lavender-scented oil. To combat yet another side effect of the pregnancy, what Susanna called her superhuman sense of smell.

“Are you going to puke?”

“I’m fine,” Susanna stuttered as she breathed through her nose, her wrist tucked under her nostrils. “Just don’t.” She paused to inhale. “Don’t talk.”

Allie knew she should say something. A few gentle words to help Susanna’s pulsing blood pressure drop, to make the reflux settle back down in Susanna’s gut. Couldn’t Allie pretend—for Susanna’s sake, for the baby’s sake—that they would buy the four-bedroom Cape, the one Susanna searched for in the real-estate listings every weekend, they would plant a kitchen garden, fence in a big yard for the boys, renovate the little cottage in back. Voila! An art studio for the two women to share. Maybe they’d even adopt a dog. Hadn’t Dash been asking for a pet?

No, Allie couldn’t pretend. Despite Susanna’s deep breathing and the defeated hunch of her back—the back Allie had painted and photographed and even copied in clay when it was pure muscle and bone, when the taut tendons in Susanna’s neck had defined all that was beauty and art and youth and sex and love.

She knew she had the power to make Susanna happy, maybe even beautiful again, but Allie couldn’t help feeling her own anger. That they weren’t at a bed-and-breakfast out on the Cape, just the two of them on a naked honeymoon. Emptied oyster shells and chocolate-candy-bar wrappers on the bedside table. The windows cracked to let in the salt-crisped air. Or showering together after uninterrupted sex, the kind of sex where you didn’t whisper a moan, you didn’t freeze midstroke and look at the bedroom door, waiting for it to burst open, a sleepy boy whining that he had to pee. They certainly could have left the boys with Eric. He had even offered to take them back to NYC for the night, for a Dadurday, Eric taking the boys to a café for brunch the next day, somewhere he was sure to bump into his friends, many ex-lovers, many hoping to be, and show off his progeny.

But no, the day before, Susanna had reminded Allie of the invite for a weekend out East, something from one of the “mommies” in Susanna’s playgroup. They had bickered—Allie demanding Susanna cancel (They were getting married, for fucksake), and Susanna calling Allie out on what they both knew was bullshit, reminding Allie that she hadn’t cared about getting married anyway. An hour spent snapping at each other as they got the boys ready for bed—until Susanna burst into pregnant-woman-pitched tears, promising Allie (between sobs) that they’d get away soon and have a real honeymoon. Allie had been the one to apologize—again—the defeated opponent of every bout they’d had since the twins were born.

The woman hosting the weekend had gotten hold of Allie’s cell number, and Allie’s and Susanna’s phones had dinged simultaneously with the arrival of every exclamation-point-laden, smiley-face-emoticon-punctuated response from the moms in the playgroup, and the one dad who wrote, with what she hoped was irony,

woo-hoo! we’ll bring the tequila. body shots!!

Here they were, Allie thought, moving closer and closer to a destination where the talk would be of what viruses had recently ravaged the children’s immune systems, of the preschool drama that never ceased to bring a sparkle of urgency to Susanna’s eye, and the minutiae of day-to-day child-rearing that made Allie feel as if life were running out. That by the time they woke from the monotonous half slumber of parenthood, they’d be old, probably get cancer or something, have just a little time left to be Allie and Susanna, to live the life they had shared before.

Susanna pointed toward the glove compartment.

“Get me one of those candy bars, Al?”

Allie couldn’t stop herself.

She said, “I thought Dr. Patka told you no sweets. That chocolate made heartburn worse?”

What did you just say?”

Allie shrank back, the way she had as a girl each time her father confronted her after she’d been caught in a lie or gotten detention (again) for doodling in her textbook. He had used the same words when she tried to lie her way out of punishment, usually a few licks on her bare legs with his belt. What did you just say? As he bent to peer in her eyes.

“You know,” Allie said, “that you have to be careful of what you eat?”

“Do you want me to puke?” Susanna asked quietly.

“No.”

“Then give me the goddamn Snickers bar.”

*   *   *

The sea cottage was shabby, bordering on decrepit: piles of junk near the front door, along with a tangle of driftwood and half a buoy. Allie practiced her smile as Susanna rang the doorbell.

“Lay-dies,” sang the woman who answered the door, clad in a white tube top that showed off her bronzed skin.

Tiffany, thought Allie. The oversexed, self-righteous mommy Susanna always crabbed about.

“It’s so exciting to have you here!” Tiffany said.

The woman, Allie thought, might as well have said, Well lookee here, if it isn’t those darn lesbians? How interesting!

Awkward introductions followed—and reintroductions; one could never remember whom you had or hadn’t met in the hazy, sleep-deprived early parenting years. There was Michael, Tiffany’s baby daddy, a greasy-haired hipster dude. Then Nicole, whose parents owned the beach house; Rip, the sole daddy in the playgroup—springy with nervous energy—and finally Rip’s wife, Grace, a boxy Asian woman, whose firm handshake made Allie wonder if she wasn’t just a tad butch.

Allie looked out onto the living room full of kids. The light streaming in from the seaside windows turned the scene into a tableau. A twisted moral. Titled Life After Children, Allie thought. The twins were in a tussle certain to turn violent. A plump Asian boy (Rip and Grace’s kid, Allie guessed) stood in the corner, his hand sunk into a bowl of M&Ms. There was just the one little girl, a long-limbed beauty whose scabbed knees peeked out from under her flowered sundress. Allie knew this was Harper, daughter of Tiffany—a child Susanna loathed almost as much as the girl’s mother. Harper had just won a tug-of-war over a jump rope, and the loser, a flaxen-haired boy with an upturned nose, wailed. Oh yes, Allie thought, the crier must be Chase. She had heard Susanna speak of Chase’s “behavioral issues” in a whisper, as if the boy had an unspeakable disease.

But it was the mommies that frightened Allie the most. The mommies. Must she really use that word, she had asked Susanna on the drive. Their sugary smiles, their kisses like pats on each other’s cheeks, the exaggerated rolls of their eyes at their children. The daddies seemed harmless enough, shoulder shrugs punctuating most everything they said, as if they were embarrassed at the “crazy” situation they’d gotten themselves into. Aw, shucks, parenthood.

And where did Allie fit in?

With the mommies? Oh no, she thought, she was too much of a dyke, too part-time mommy for them.

With the daddies? Nah, a woman could never join those ranks.

She belonged to neither. And that was exactly the way she liked it.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Julia Fierro

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 19, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    When I began reading Julia Fierro's debut novel Cutting Teeth, I

    When I began reading Julia Fierro's debut novel Cutting Teeth, I thought it was going to be a novel about a bunch of whiny, overprotective, rich, Brooklyn parents and their spoiled (yet gifted or challenged) children. I didn't see how I could relate.
    Then as I read the book, I saw how Fierro brought these characters I probably would not befriend to vivid life in her novel. It begins with something I wish more multi-character novels would have - a chart explaining the who the characters are and how they relate to each other. This is so helpful when you begin a book, and if a book is as well-written as this is, you find you don't need it to keep track of the characters, you are invested enough in them to know who is who.
    They came together as a playgroup for their four-year-olds. Nicole, who has OCD and is afraid that the world is coming to an end this Labor Day weekend, has invited the four other couples and their children to her parents' Long Island Sound vacation cottage. Nicole's husband is rapidly tiring of Nicole's OCD behavior and her fears, her constant monitoring parenting of message boards, and has trouble relating to their son Wyatt and his behavior issues.
    Leigh comes from a wealthy family who has lost much of their fortune in the economic downturn. Her husband works for her family's business, so their livelihood is in jeopardy, which causes Leigh to do something that could cost her everything she holds dear. Her son Chase may be somewhere on the autism spectrum, and she has pinned all her mothering hopes on her baby daughter, who was conceived in vitro.
    Rip is the stay-at-home daddy in the group. He is an earth father, making his family organic homemade foods and loves caring for his son Hank, who is shy and wants to dress like a princess. He wants another baby but his wife refuses to consider it. She has a difficult time relating to Hank and Rip.
    Rip is attracted to Tiffany, who runs a music class for children and whose daughter Harper, the only girl in the group, is a Queen Bee. Harper orders the boys around and expects them to do as she tells them. Tiffany likes to stir up trouble in the group, and when we get her backstory we see why.
    Maybe the most interesting person in the novel is Tenzin, a Tibetan political refugee who fled her home country leaving behind her loving husband and three children. Tenzin is nannying for Leigh, and Tiffany is trying to bully Leigh into sharing Tenzin with her. Tenzin loves and understands the children and seeing these people through her eyes in a brief chapter is interesting. I wish we had more chapters narrated by her.

    There are tensions, sexual and otherwise, among the parents and between various couples, and anyone who has vacationed with a big group may recognize these scenes being played out. The weekend culminates in one big uncomfortable scene where the underlying problems bubble to the surface and explode.
    Cutting Teeth is a character study of contemporary parenting in an urban setting. The competitiveness of getting your child into the right preschool, maintaining a expensive lifestyle, trying to sustain a marital relationship in the midst of all this, making friends, and the helicopter parenting that has led to children being labeled and over scheduled is all examined in this terrific novel that fans of Tom Perrotta's Little Children will enjoy.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2014

    Move on

    Very redundant, cliche of NYC mommies. Poor soap opera.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 19, 2014

    The title of the book was quite interesting and rather reflectiv

    The title of the book was quite interesting and rather reflective to what each parent experiences, during their weekend away. Like a toddler cutting teeth, these parents experience their share of pain, numbness, growth, and new beginnings. The cover of the book is “meh”. I didn’t feel the book cover reflected the storyline in the way I would have expected. The house where the couples stayed in, or the beach, maybe even the NY city view. However, once I got passed that, it was a great read!

    I always shudder when a book is quoted as being “One of the most anticipated debut novels of 2014″, because it really sets the author up for either sheer success or fizzled failure. However, this book does not fail. It reminded me of a drama sitcom, even the one I absolutely loved, “Thirty-Something”. Remember that one? I absolutely loved it!!

    This is a book filled with different scenarios, a variety of characters-who have their own set of issues, and how they all come together by being in a playgroup. This a character driven book, with each character evolving over the course of the book (or do they?), and how each one faces challenges that cause each one to question their goals, their relationships, parenting, and how they adjust to change. With a wide variety of couples (non-couples) and children, this is a book that deals with real issues of today. It’s not a warm, fuzzy book, although there are moments of that. Rather, it’s a glimpse into the real issues parents face and/or have wondered.

    This is also a book that would make for a great character analysis in an English Comp or Sociology class, because of the different issues discussed in this book. It’s a story that doesn’t have one main plot, but many sub-plots, and Julia is able to merge them all together into a book that reads seamlessly.

    It’s an excellent book and one I enjoyed reading.-BooksintheBurbs

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 11, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Cutting Teeth takes place over a single weekend, where a mommy g

    Cutting Teeth takes place over a single weekend, where a mommy group has gathered for a brief summer retreat at a beach house on Long Island, spouses and children in tow.

    What a motley crew! There's a germaphobic doomsday prepper, a stay-at-home dad who struggles with male factor infertility, a lesbian couple, a wealthy family, a family with a developmentally delayed son, strict parents, hands-off parents, and plenty of secrets to go around. These characters are interesting and outrageous. There are ones you'll love and ones you'll hate; but as in real life, it's more complicated than that. There is also a beloved Tibetan nanny who is a breath of fresh air, often balancing out the crazy going on around her.

    Cutting Teeth was a fun and enjoyable read, but I have to admit, it also made me feel a little old. I kind of missed out on the mommy group thing when C was younger (thanks, preemie lockdown). Are these groups really full of such mismatched, insecure people? (Also, do adults really text each other using textspeak?)

    Even though I often felt incredulous at the way these characters acted, I still found them honest, raw, and believable. We all have irrational fears and insecurities in some form or another, and Fierro taps right into that. It's like she took all the tiny doubts and fears people have in healthy doses, isolated them, and then amplified them to create these characters. It's at once embarrassing, appalling, and utterly fascinating.

    If you've spent anytime at all on parenting internet sites (blogs, forums, columns) you'll recognize these characters. What's scary is, you might catch a glimpse of yourself, too.

    I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2014

    Just ok

    It's hard to identify with some of the characters in the book. Most of them are very self-involved.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2014

    I purchased this book for some vacation reading. It was cynical

    I purchased this book for some vacation reading. It was cynical and boring, and after much effort, I could not even finish it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 22, 2014

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings A playgroup tak

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings

    A playgroup takes a vacation and as personalities can probably handle each other for a few hours a week, a whole weekend is a lot!  If you are a long time blog reader you may know that my kids are of the four legged variety, but I have some fantastic nieces and nephews and love to read books with the kid and parent antics - this book did not disappoint.  

    In the front of the book is a perfect chart of each of the families with the child or children they have.  Each family has a four year old and most are boys!  I loved that one of the couples was a lesbian and one involves the husband as the homemaker and of course one is with the mother has an overactive imagination for negative happenings.  I absolutely adore reading books where there are group dynamics and reading about how they all affect each other and this one hit the mark.  Not only did it have the dynamics of adults, but the kids had some peculiarities as well!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2014

    Great read

    Cerebrial without being pretentious. I love the public masks
    of people versus who they really are inside. Another great read is Seating Arraangements by Shpistead or The Good house by Leary.
    My absolute favorite is Corrections by Frainzen. Youll either Love Love iLove it or Absolutely hate it. I LOVED IT?
    HAPPY READING?







    Seating

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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