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DarkEcho Horror
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Book Review

The Tooth Fairy
Graham Joyce
Tor/320 pp./$22.95
ISBN 0-312-86261-x

Reviewed by Hank Wagner Seven-year-old Sam Southall awakens the night he loses his first tooth and encounters a strange visitor. He surprises the odd little creature, who, after recovering its composure, reveals itself as the Tooth Fairy of legend. Thus begins a relationship which endures until Sam leaves for college, a strange, touching, sometimes dangerous association that adds spice and terror to Sam's otherwise normal existence. The Tooth Fairy, whose appearance, demeanor and sex change constantly, accompanies Sam on his journey through adolescence, sharing his triumphs and tragedies, even ushering him into manhood with his first sexual experience. Along the way, the he/she/it protects Sam, but also exposes him to a variety of dangers; the mercurial creature is by turns adversarial and supportive, giving the novel a certain edginess.

From the outset, Joyce stresses the uncertainty of life. One of the more horrifying events in the novel takes place well before the Tooth Fairy appears. In the book's opening scene, one of Sam's friends is attacked by a pike as he dangles his feet in a stream. The boy loses a toe, and is destined to walk with a limp for the rest of his life. The attack, frightening because of its suddenness and harshness, is a stunning reminder of how quickly lives can change. One minute you are safe, bullshitting with your friends, the next you are being hurried off to the emergency room. It also points out that no one is in control -- neither children nor their parents.

Joyce's point is that the only sure thing in life is change--he expresses this sentiment perfectly, using Sam as a prism. Who better to portray the ambiguity of life than a teenager, whose perceptions change along with his body? Joyce uses his innate understanding of childhood to great advantage, creating a story that can be taken as a supernatural tale or as a psychological study of a troubled adolescent grappling with impending adulthood.

Joyce returns to the theme of ambiguity again and again. Consider, for example, the Tooth Fairy's gender or lack thereof -- its form varies with Sam's age and mood. Besides its physical malleability, it also assumes a striking variety of roles, acting in turn as friend, foe, prophet, protector, lover, and conscience. While it often taunts and threatens him, it also helps him handle bullies, protects him from crazy adults, and initiates him into the wonders of sex. In short, it is whatever Sam needs it to be.

There is also the question of whether the Tooth Fairy exists at all -- the book permits either interpretation. Interestingly, the Tooth Fairy appears to Sam soon after a traumatic event at school. One might say that it appeared in response to the event, perhaps as Sam's coping mechanism. Thereafter, its visits coincide with the turbulent events in Sam's life, suggesting that it may all be in his mind. Cunningly, Joyce has Sam visit a psychiatrist, to whom he confesses all about the Tooth Fairy. The psychiatrist, bent on fulfilling his own expectations, blithely ignores Sam, choosing instead to pepper him with inane questions about his sexual urges.

Considering the differences between The Tooth Fairy and Requiem(the only other of Joyce's seven novels to find U. S. publication), it's hard to predict what the author, a three time winner of the British Fantasy Award, will do next. Based on prior experience, however, it promises to be strange and original. In the meantime, we can hope that all his previous work somehow finds its way to the US. I for one am looking forward to that day. -- Hank Wagner

Guest reviewer Hank Wagner, always a prolific reader, is also one of the most prolific reviewers in horror. He has been the chief reviewer for the Overlook Connection Catalog, has reviewed for the DarkEcho newsletter, Cemetery Dance, Horror, Nova Express, Wetbones, and for many other publications.

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