England’s brilliant Graham Joyce is yet another of those highly praised authors it’s taken me years to discover. I’m just glad I’ve finally gotten around to making Joyce’s acquaintance, and that I’ve read his 1996 novel THE TOOTH FAIRY.
It’s an evocative 1960s set coming of age tale with surreal touches. Situated in a working class English community, it relates the exploits of three boys over the course of several fateful years. There’s the quiet and sensitive Sam, the inquisitive Terry and the gifted Clive; we follow these three from preadolescence to college, with Sam being the prominent character. He, after all, has the most interesting situation, as he’s periodically visited by none other than the Tooth Fairy.
Said fairy, as depicted here, appears in both male and female guises to befriend, cajole and seduce the hapless Sam. The Tooth Fairy is also possessed of great and often frightening powers, which it demonstrates early on by predicting the horrific murders of Terry’s parents and twin brothers. It also directly makes things happen, such as a switched Christmas present snafu it performs to confound Sam. The Fairy also commits a murder that hangs over the remainder of the book.
The idea of a small town boy dealing with a horrific power he can’t control may sound like a Stephen King cliché, but there’s far more to this novel, which has a richness and uniqueness that defy easy categorization. The Tooth Fairy, it turns out, is just one of several marvels supernatural and otherwise that affect the lives of Joyce’s young protagonists.
There’s also Lanky Linda, who grows into Way Hot Linda, and eventually leaves in search of modeling work in London. Alice is another gal who figures in the tale, a sly young woman who romances all three protagonists. Then there’s the errant fish that bites off two of Terry’s toes in the beginning, and who the boys spend years searching for. And the Nightmare Interceptor, a mysterious device built by Terry’s father that comes to take on a disturbing significance.
Ultimately THE TOOTH FAIRY is closer to TOM SAWYER than THE SHINING, a languid and episodic hymn to growing up in a highly recognizable past era. Even with the supernatural elements it seems very true to life, with an oft-harsh, unsentimental narrative and an extremely frank look at adolescent sexuality.
It’s also quite compelling. Graham Joyce, based on his work I’ve read thus far, is clearly a master of the all-too-rare art of making readers turn the pages. With THE TOOTH FAIRY he’s produced a near-masterpiece, a nostalgic account of a boy’s coming of age in the company of The Tooth Fairy.