Julia Fierro’s Cutting Teeth is a finely observed and highly readable new novel about the stresses and strains of parenthood and modern life. Fierro, a first-time novelist, brings to the table a fresh voice and sharp insight. Cutting Teeth is a solid, quick read for the summer, but in the end I’d describe it as novel that I liked rather than loved.
The Story: A group of thirty-something Brooklyn parents, who meet once a week for a playgroup for their four-year-olds, gather their families together for a Labor Day weekend at a Long Island beach house. Fierro shifts the point of view to each of the parents in the playgroup; all of them are obsessive and neurotic in their own way. Paranoid Nicole fears imminent disaster and smokes pot to get through the day; stay-at-home dad Rip wants to keep his job as an honorary “mommy” and so pressures his career-focused wife to have another baby; sexy Tiffany, who has pulled herself up from the wrong side of the tracks, seeks to be a perfect NYC mom and secure her daughter’s spot in the “right” school; former heiress Leigh struggles with a son with behavioral issues and the loss of her family’s fortune. Only the nanny Tenzin, the “Tibetan Mary Poppins” as one of the characters calls her, seems able to find contentment in the present. At the beach weekend, underlying tension and jealousies among these characters rise to the surface.
What I Thought: Although I thought this might be nothing more than a light and easy read, Cutting Teeth is a sharp and interesting social satire about urban sophisticates and the parenting practices currently in vogue among the upper and middle classes. Fierro cleverly demonstrates that the playgroup parents often behave just like oversize toddlers.
I flew through the pages of this novel and felt deeply enmeshed in the characters’ backstories and weekend foibles. But in the end, the slice-of-life story didn’t feel complete. I struggled with feeling so caught up in the characters’ lives and problems, and then not knowing, ultimately, how certain issues were resolved. Fierro’s characters did not seem to grow and mature, even after a near tragic event at the end of the weekend. Perhaps that is realistic (do people ever really change?), but it doesn’t make for the most satisfying emotional journey for the reader.
I would rate Cutting Teeth a 3 out of 5 stars. I will look forward to further work from the talented Julia Fierro.