Book Review: Baby Teeth
Stage, Zoje. Baby Teeth: A Novel. St. Martin’s Press, 2018.
I’ve always been interested in stories that explore the darker, more sinister aspects of womanhood and motherhood. In college, I loved Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child, the tale of a woman who gives birth to four pleasant, “normal” children. She and her husband conceive a fifth who grows to be so terrible and strange that they regret bringing him into the world. So, when I read the plot of Zoje Stage’s Baby Teeth, I knew it would be an equally captivating read.
From an outsider’s perspective, Suzette has a perfect, blissful life. She is happily married to her husband, Alex, a successful “green” architect. They live in a beautiful home and have a young daughter, Hanna. There is trouble, though, lurking within their picturesque family. Despite being seven years old, Hanna has yet to utter a single word. She has an antagonistic relationship with her mother, though she is affectionate and doting with her father. She has been kicked out of every school she’s ever attended due to her violent tendencies. Suzette is frightened of this behavior; Alex is in denial.
Through dual narrations, readers see the mother-daughter tug of war. Suzette is desperate to get Hanna into school, to have Alex to herself, and return to who she was pre-motherhood. Hanna feels she has been wronged by her mother and she, too, wants her father all to herself. She plots various ways to kill—or at least injure—Suzette. Can Suzette convince Alex of Hanna’s bad behavior? Will a school ever accept her vicious daughter? Will Hanna succeed in her quest to kill her own mother?
To say that this book is chilling or creepy would be a gross understatement. Readers will feel unnerved from the first page to the last. Stage does this via Hanna’s childish, matter-of-fact narration. Her attitude toward killing her mother, her classmates, or anyone who wrongs her is stated so plainly that she truly seems capable of anything. Hanna, despite her young age, is perhaps one of the most manipulative, sinister, and terrifying antagonists I’ve ever encountered. I hadn’t been so enthralled and disturbed since I finished Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.
In a book full of near constant horrors and surprises, I will say the ending sort of fell flat. I was expecting one more shock, so to speak, and it never came. This made me hope that Stage is planning on sequel; however, I haven’t seen anything hinting at this online.