Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Book Review: "Cutting Teeth" by Julia Fierro

Full disclosure: I received an advance readers copy of this book from NetGalleys in exchange for an unbiased review.

It takes a talented author to keep you reading a book in which you're not very fond of many of the characters but you're so drawn into the plot you want to see where it leads. That is definitely the case with Julia Fierro's Cutting Teeth—while I found nearly every one of the characters tremendously unappealing because of their behavior and their attitude, I couldn't stop reading the book, even as I kept saying to myself, "God, I hate these people!"

A group of thirty-something parents in New York City, linked together by their children's playgroup, decides to spend Labor Day Weekend at a beach house on Long Island. Nicole, whose parents own the house, is a successful author and instructor who is becoming increasingly paralyzed by her phobias and fears, and her need to protect her son. She moves from obsession to obsession, from fears of swine flu and bird flu to fixation on a rumor that a major attack will happen in New York City over the holiday weekend. She's barely holding it together, with thanks only to a hidden stash of marijuana she secretly smokes, but even that can't calm her down.

Leigh seems to have it all, but the former debutante is actually dealing with serious money problems and the pending discovery of a secret that could ruin her. Leigh's son, Chase, is sweet but developmentally challenged, and he is straining her patience and her marriage. If it weren't for her Tibetan nanny, Tenzing, she would be utterly lost.

Allie and Susanna are newlyweds who met when Allie was Susanna's college instructor. They're the parents of twin boys, and Susanna is now pregnant with a third child and resents that she put her art career on hold for motherhood and to allow Allie's career to continue to thrive, while Allie isn't sure she's cut out for motherhood or the domesticity of married life and the beach house outside of the city that Susanna so craves.

Rip is the only father in the playgroup. Although he considers himself just one of the mommies, he never stops reminding the women that he's all man, despite the fact that his wife, Grace, is the breadwinner and refuses to consider having a second child so Rip can continue being a stay-at-home dad. Although Rip is in love with their son, Hank, and loves being needed, Hank's sensitivity troubles him.

And then there's Tiffany, the only mother in the playgroup with a daughter (diva-in-training Harper), who vacillates between mean girl gossiping and playing the mothers against each other, flirting with Rip and using her sexuality to get what she wants, and being the know-it-all mommy who preaches organics and letting your child breastfeed until they're ready to stop. She'll stop at nothing to ensure her daughter gets the life she didn't have as a child.

As if five preschool children and an infant (as well as a pregnant mother) in one house weren't enough to cause chaos, all of the problems facing these parents and their individual foibles will come to a head during this weekend. Secrets will be revealed, relationships will be tested, fears will be exposed, and feelings (at the very least) will be hurt. Will these parents be able to keep their cool and retain their relationships with each other and their significant others? Will the world end over the weekend, as Nicole fears it will?

Cutting Teeth is a slightly over-dramatized look at modern-day parents in New York City. It's disturbing to think that people really behave and think this way, and you'll probably recognize someone you know in at least one of the characters. These are troubled, deeply flawed people, but for the most part, they are trying their best to be devoted parents, no matter how challenging that is given what is going on around them. I don't think I'd like being around these people in real life, but I found their fictionalized stories somewhat amusing, and I waited to see who would get their comeuppance.

I think this will be a fun and compelling beach read, as long as you don't plan to spend your time in a house with lots of little kids and other high maintenance parents. Perhaps the characters will annoy you as they did me, but hopefully you'll still find the story as readable as I did.

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