May Editor's Pick: Julia Fierro's 'Cutting Teeth'
If you type "Brooklyn parents are" into Google's search bar, the first autocomplete result is "Brooklyn parents are the worst." (As a five-year resident of Park Slope, I'll just say I've perfected my game of baby stroller Frogger more seamlessly than I ever thought possible — or necessary.) But do they really deserve all the flak they get? According to Julia Fierro in Cutting Teeth (St. Martin's), yes: They're just as privileged and insufferable as you imagined as you peeked inside their brownstones. Oh, and their children are, too.
In Fierro’s debut, the author throws together a group of uptight, Brooklyn thirtysomething playgroup parents into a Long Island beach house for a contentious Labor Day weekend get-together. Her rotating third-person perspective chapters focus in on seven characters: Nicole, who has neuroses about… well, everything, including the end of the world; Allie and Susanna, newlyweds with another baby on the way; Tiffany, who’s reinvented herself from trashy to pseudo-classy, though she can’t forget her background; Rip, the sole stay-at-home-dad; Leigh, the debutante who’s lost her fortune; and Tenzin, the beloved “Tibetan Mary Poppins” who’s keeping Leigh’s life in one piece. Barely any character is particularly likable — but Fierro’s success is that no one really has to be for the reader to stay engaged.
Throughout the novel, the parents and children run loose dealing with mini-conflicts during the weekend — i.e. sexual tension between adults, kids playing too roughly with one another. In one instance, Rip’s son Hank wants to wear a princess dress like Tiffany’s daughter Harper. In a superficial way, it is very much a book about parents and the self-centric drama they face, but Fierro’s handling of the events in a cutting, slightly overdramatized way lends a satirical edge to the book that opens up the work to all readers. You laugh. You cringe. You, of the non-mommy ilk, wonder: Shit. Is that going to be me?
Below the surface, however, Fierro quietly brings up issues with regards to feminism and gender roles. Can women have it all? In this novel, no: Grace, Rip’s wife, a character who doesn’t get much screen time, is the family’s breadwinner, but as a result doesn’t spend much time with Hank. Whether she’s a good mother is constantly put into question by the mothers, and even her own husband, because she chooses career, and won’t agree to expand the family although Rip is dying for another child. Although Grace's guilt seems genuine, she ends up looking like the least sympathetic mother as compared to the stay-at-home moms in the rest of the book. (The one mother who does work, Tiffany, runs a music class, “Tiff’s Riffs,” which is often written pejoratively.) Rip, then, is called a “mommy,” constantly reinforcing gender roles among the stay-at-home moms — but it’s a title Rip wears with pride.
The resolution of the weekend isn't the most satisfying, but the novel has already done its job by then. We've spent our time with these families and enjoyed it, even though we're not quite certain why we have — and that's the touch that makes Cutting Teeth sing. The honesty within the pages creeps up on the reader and takes hold of the experience. Like a good voyeur, you just won't want to let go.