Zoje Stage takes the electra complex to another level in Baby Teeth. In this article I explore whether this novel adds anything worthwhile to the burgeoning genre of “creepy kids.”
Of course, parenting is a joy. It’s also costly, sleepless, and full of anxiety. The whole experience can bring up some dark shit and the “creepy kid” motif is society’s way of dealing.
We worry about how our children will turn out. Will they be happy? Healthy? Fulfilled? The “creepy kid” construct allows us to take those worries and exorcise them in the darkest place possible. Now worries about Timmy’s behavior or refusal to eat vegetables don’t seem as monumental.
Here are some books and movies dealing with this theme that I can think of off the top of my head: The Bad Seed, The Omen, The Exorcist, We Need To Talk About Kevin, The Good Son, We Have Always Lived In The Castle, Ring, Such Small Hands, and Sharp Objects. It’s safe to say society has a bit of a fixation.
Baby Teeth is the newest entry into the “creepy kid” canon. It’s a compelling add to an overflowing pile.
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Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage
It’s a classic set-up: beautiful, stay-at-home mom Suzette is convinced something is wrong with her daughter, Hanna. And by wrong she means demonic. Blissfully oblivious architect dad with the hipster beard, Alex, is oblivious.
From Suzette’s POV, the daughters’ increasingly disturbing behaviors are recounted (rejected by babysitters, unable [or unwilling] to speak at age seven, kicked out of enough preschools to warrant homeschooling).
Is Hanna as wicked as her mother suspects? Or is Suzette’s perception clouded by the trauma of her own upbringing and the physical realities of Crohn’s Disease?
Stage inserts elements into Baby Teeth that separate it from the pack.
The most interesting device of the novel is the back-and-forth third person narration of Suzette and Hanna. That creepy ass kid may not speak to her family but she’ll tell us plenty.
Alternately fascinated and horrified as I read, Hanna’s sections were my favorite. While I could understand Suzette’s position, she was a bit too sniveling for my taste (more on that later).
While Alex was a bit laughable, he wasn’t unsupportive or cruel. He wanted to believe his wife, but that terrifying uterus urchin purposely never let her Daddy see her be anything but angelic (*moms everywhere* “amirite? I mean, not this extreme, but…amirite?”).
We’re All Hiding Something
A central theme of Baby Teeth is that one doesn’t have to be a psychotic snot factory to possess a darkness worth hiding. We all have bits we’ve tucked in the corners of ourselves.
Suzette hides a medically neglectful childhood that ultimately led to emergency surgery and a fistula that required months of recuperation and overall grossness.
She is an immaculately kept woman, living in an immaculately kept home, disguising a condition that makes her shit herself.
Know what exacerbates Crohns Disease flare-ups? Stress. Does Hanna know that? We suspect she does as Suzette spirals; her environmental stress ramping and informing her physical distress.
Baby Teeth Impressions
I enjoyed this book. It’s a taut, streamlined novel. A lack of superfluous details kept a tight eye on the action. Stages’ plot clarity doesn’t require verbosity. Each word is a propulsion, building paragraphs that flow to an irrevocable ending.
Throughout reading I kept thinking “this needs to be a movie.” Apparently Zoje has a background in screenwriting and film making. Her talent in these mediums are on display here.
Baby Teeth‘s so subtly good; Stage gracious in her determination to let the plot shine more than her albeit impressive literary devices. She’s more interested in our enjoyment than looking smart.
I didn’t enjoy Suzette. While empathizing with her, I found her whiny, helpless and clingy, more than a bit co-dependent. It was Stage’s skill that inspired my empathy, not admiration for the character. I think that speaks volumes to Zoje’s talent.
I’m not sure if I was annoyed by Suzette due to my own stuff or if Zoje was painting a compelling anti-hero.
What are some of your favorite “creepy kids?” Let’s talk about it in the comments below! Share this article to quash baby fever.
Check out my last book review Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore!