In her debut novel “Cutting Teeth,” Julia Fierro dissects the members of a Brooklyn playgroup. These relatively privileged thirty-something mothers – and one stay-at-home Dad – and their spouses and partners have all converged at “Eden,” a house on Long Island Sound to see out the summer.
Frankly, this is the playgroup from hell and Eden is no paradise. These Park Slope parents have more than their fair share of secrets.
Take debutante Leigh:
The neighborhood mommies’ acceptance of Leigh was the currency that determined status in this new life with little children. Before she had measured her worth by her salary as an art educator, by the success of the benefits she planned. . . . And there had been more superficial successes – her tennis- trimmed body and her rigorous schedule of exfoliation and moisturizing.
Now her identity boiled down to a) good mommy or b) bad mommy.
Leigh is the mother of Chase, a four-year-old with significant behavioral issues and infant Charlotte. Her secret is that she's an embezzler with a huge sense of entitlement.
Leigh’s bff in the mommy world is Tiffany, a sultry self-made blonde who dragged herself up into the upper middle class group from less than auspicious beginnings. She‘s not afraid to use her body to get what she wants, while playing on the insecurities of her new bff, to try to take back Leigh’s nanny, Tenzin, who she claims she “lent” her. She's just the gal any playgroup would be happy to have!
Newlyweds Susanna and Allie are mothers of twins and Susanna is hugely pregnant with Allie’s child. Allie is mostly devoid of any maternal feelings, though she does rally when one of the twins goes missing. Susanna is the playgroup mommy in this household.
Rip, the playgroup’s token daddy, is desperate to become a father again to validate himself as a stay-at-home parent, but his bread-winning wife, Grace, isn’t ready. His kayaking trip, where he tries to bond with Tiffany's husband, is truly funny.
Nicole, who has invited the group to her parents’ house, is using the weekend as an excuse to get out of the city, as she believes Internet warnings of a cataclysmic event schedule for the city. Even with ample medication and secret hits of pot, she still needs the comfort of her provisioned and packed “go-bags.” Clearly suffering from OCD as well, she also has issues with knives.
Fierro, at times, writes convincingly of early parenthood:
Before had become a powerful word. One that needed no explanation when you were talking to another parent to a child under five. In life after children, Nicole often felt as if she were a character in a story; sometimes fraught with urgent meaning (fevers, falls, first steps), where time sped by, so fleeting that it made her crave for more life, for a hundred years even. Mostly, the story slogged along in monotonous tedium (diaper rashes, runny noses, potty-training purgatory).
For the most part, though, this is a biting, satirical look at the pressures of 21st century parenthood that easily transcends the chick lit genre. Life with demanding small children isn’t always easy. But, ultimately, “Cutting Teeth” suffers from characters that are just too over-the-top and unsympathetic.
Tiffany’s apology was as fake as her engagement ring, which she claimed was IF grade and two carats, supposedly inherited from Michael’s grandmother. Leigh had been embarrassed for Tiffany when she told Leigh this: the ring was obviously flawed and no more than a carat and a half. But she’d said nothing. She’d been kind. Now, she wanted to fling the lie back in Tiffany’s face. Remind her that she, Leigh, was a Locust Valley Lambert who could spot a good diamond from ten feet away.
Tenzin, the nanny who has no idea she is causing a rift between those two loving bffs, has left her own children behind in Tibet, to care for the children of stay-at-home Leigh. She watches them all. “Friends are people who need each other,” she thinks.
Yet in the end, while these characters clearly need someone -- if not each other -- there are no friends in this group, as Tiffany so sweetly points out:
“If it wasn’t for me,” Tiffany said, pointing a finger in Leigh’s face, “you’d have no friends.”
Truly, who needs friends like these?
“Cutting Teeth” is available on amazon.com and at your favorite New York bookstores.