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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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