The Tooth Fairy, Graham Joyce

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The Tooth Fairy, Graham Joyce, Signet, 1996, ISBN 0-451-18453-1, $13.95, 342pp.

A group of children coming of age together is nothing new, yet Graham Joyce somehow manages to not only make it feel fresh but different as well. In horror, the inevitable comparison for this type of story is Stephen King’s “The Body” (filmed as Stand By Me), which is atypical King, but a great benchmark. “The Body” doesn’t have any supernatural elements, although it does rely for the most part on horror tropes to build its suspense and atmosphere. However, King’s story is simple and direct, and the uncertainty is in its characters motivation to action. Joyce writes in that understated Brit style, in which the gore is hidden underneath a veneer of geniality. When something horrific happens in King’s writing, there’s no doubting the pain and blood. With Joyce, the event seems so unreal that you wonder if it just might be in the character’s imagination.

The underlying question in The Tooth Fairy isn’t, however, whether or not the Fairy is real (although it is a minor subplot), but if the Fairy is a good or evil influence. Late in the book, you realize that the Fairy, real or not, stands as a metaphor for certain aspects of being a child. On the surface, there is a simple story about a young boy plagued by a childhood demon, but underneath runs a Jungian psychodrama saying, in effect, that we all have these demons, and dealing with them is a process of maturing.

I was originally drawn to Graham Joyce by the recommendation of Jonathan Carroll in his recent interview with Bill Babouris, so I find it hard not to compare Joyce and Carroll as well. Like Carroll, Joyce tends to rely on a narrator that may not be entirely reliable. Carroll’s writing is always detailed, rarely moving quickly in time, concentrated on the here and now. Joyce shifts in and out of detail, using vagueness to add a sense of unease or urgency in action (i.e., his narrator describes things in less detail when under stress).

I liked Joyce’s Requiem, and thought that he might be an author to watch, but was not sure that his other books would show the same promise. After reading The Tooth Fairy, I have a better idea of his subject matter and style: fantastical depiction of psychological impairments. Other authors have attempted the same substance with varying degrees of success, but Joyce seems to have found a magic formula for his own work is fresh, exciting and illuminating.

[Finished 9 September 1997]

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