By Julia Fierro
(St. Martin’s Press, Hardcover, 9781250042026, May 2014, 336pp.)
The Short of It:
Parenting. It’s no picnic.
The Rest of It:
Parents are the bones on which children cut their teeth — Peter Ustinov
A playgroup, which consists of five families and a nanny, head to a beach house for a little vacation. Although Nicole’s intention is to provide respite to those within the playgroup, her invitation serves another purpose. It gives her a reason to escape the city. The internet rumors about the end of the world and how it happens to fall on that particular weekend have left Nicole more than a little paranoid. No longer taking her anxiety medication, she resorts to smoking pot. A mother of a three-year-old resorting to pot and spending the weekend with a house full of kids during what she fears is the last weekend of her life? Yep, makes for some good storytelling.
The dynamics of the playgroup is, in my opinion, what makes the story so compelling. This is a diverse group of people and it’s hard to go into the book without giving you a sense of who they are. So here’s some info on the rest of the group:
There’s Susanna and Allie and their twins Levi and Dash. Susanna is in the late stages of their 3rd pregnancy and so Allie goes along on the trip, mostly to appease Susanna but knowing that a playgroup weekend is not really her thing.
Rip and Grace and their four-year-old Hank, have a different story. Hank is a result of an anonymous sperm donor and although Rip desperately wants another child, mostly to extend his role as a stay-at-home dad which he treasures more than anyone knows. Grace isn’t drinking the Kool-Aid.
Leigh comes with her two children, Chase and Charlotte but her husband Brad does not join them. Chase is “on the spectrum” and is a handful for Leigh. As his mother, she does the best she can do for him but feels that her best if often not good enough. Brad has no patience for the kid, which hurts Leigh deeply although she doesn’t admit this to her husband.
Tiffany and Michael are engaged to be married and their daughter, Harper Rose is three, going on thirty. Tiffany is clearly the outcast of the group. Young and beautiful, she gets along best with Leigh but the rest of the playgroup barely tolerates her. Except for Rip, who seems to have eyes for her. She is attractive in an obvious way and not afraid to show it.
Then there is Tenzin, the Tibetan nanny. She is the wise, doer of all things, fixer of all boo-boos for both the children and the adults. Even though she has a family of her own and cannot be with them, she does her best to surround these children and parents with love and positivity. Something that they don’t see too often.
There is no sugar-coating going on here. The story is told in alternating chapters, so you get a real feel for what these people are made of. Their hidden agendas, their secret attractions and their frustrations over their own relationships with both their significant others and their children. NONE of these people want to be there. They accepted the invitation to be polite, but also hoped to get a little relaxation in at the same time. Impossible to do with so many people and children in the house. Even with a nanny putting out fires at every turn, tempers flare. How can they not?
Sensitivities over parenting style, breastfeeding, the whole work-out-of-the-home/stay-at-home debate and even diet come into play. No one is spared the scrutiny of the other parents and it’s impossible to turn away from it. Dysfunction is compelling and dysfunction that you can somehow relate to? Even more compelling.
I was not a model mom when my kids were young. I did all the right things but I was anxious all the time. Why did they cry ALL the time?? I had one kid that did not want to breastfeed no matter what I did (if you know me, you can probably guess which one) and then the other wanted to breastfeed forever. I had ZERO patience for the tantrums and could not do the whole playgroup thing. The women seemed vacuous and too perfect on the outside. I was the one with the spit-up in her hair. The one that always looked like she could use a nap. Probably because in those days, I functioned on less than three hours of sleep a night.
Yep, I get it. So to me, this book was like a breath of fresh, dysfunctional, pot-laden air. This is how it really is. But then, that made me sad. There are two characters that piqued my interest the most. Tiffany, the outcast, and Rip, the stay-at-home-dad. To me, they both seemed to be the best parents of the group, if you can give anyone a medal for their parenting, but living your life through your children? That is something I see a lot of and it’s a sad state of affairs. Rip uses his stay-at-home status as a way to hide from the real world and Tiffany’s only hope of having friends is being a part of a playgroup. Sad.
The inclusion of the Tibetan nanny was interesting. I have to admit, that I groaned a little when she first entered the picture. I am half Tibetan and I worried about her character being too stereotypical but I worried for nothing. Tenzin provides the much-needed balance. Without her, there’d be no voice of reason and these people would kill each other. I do wonder how the author came to include a Tibetan character in her novel. Maybe she knows someone from Tibet?
I suspect that this book will be getting a lot of buzz in the coming months. I’d be surprised if it didn’t. It’s complex and at the same time, very difficult to put down. I read it in a couple of sittings but it’s one of those books that I will be thinking about for a very long time. The picture Fierro paints of Nicole smoking a joint after putting her son down. I bet lots of parents do that, they just don’t admit it or maybe their joint is a glass of wine. Whatever the vice, I can relate.
Make sure you pick-up a copy because people will be talking about this one.
This giveaway is for one copy of Cutting Teeth and is open to the US and Canada. A winner will be chosen randomly by me. The book will come directly from the publisher. Only one entry per person. Giveaway closes on May 31, 2014 (pacific). I will contact the winner for his/her mailing address.
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