When Denny finds out that her father's cancer has returned for the third time, and that he has no plans to pursue preventative care, she propels herself out of her quiet, lonely life in the suburbs of D.C, and into the wilderness.
The narrator’s troubled mind is laid bare on every page through Goldblatt’s unflinching gaze—there’s little glamorous about Denny by the time her journey leaves her half-naked and caked in mud, but she is vividly real. And the pain of witnessing a loved one’s slow degradation is rendered excruciating enough for us to believe Denny would prefer the physical hardships of repairing a torn roof or scaling a watchtower in a rainstorm over having to say good-bye to her father. Grief can do that ... For readers, though, Hard Mouth is all reward.
Goldblatt’s writing is sharp and to the point, getting us into the mind of a narrator that at times seems almost sociopathic in her lack of empathy and desire for isolation ... By removing Denny from society and taking her away from the immediate reality of her father’s illness and coming death, Goldblatt explores new ways to deal with grief, and through moments like this, subtly shows the reader that Denny is not unfeeling. In turn, we are able to empathize with our seemingly unempathetic narrator ... Goldblatt’s writing is smart, witty, and engaging. Denny’s narration is quick-paced, making for a captivating read, and Goldblatt successfully and with care shows us the complicated and oftentimes confusing manifestations of grief.
Told in first-person, Denny’s stream of consciousness is contrastingly critical and vaudevillian. Goldblatt’s prose thrives on pithy one-liners and lucid moments of defamiliarization. The humorous voice does wonders for the pacing, but at times Denny’s in-the-moment gags feel a bit too on the nose. It’s difficult to imagine anyone, even if creative enough to bring to life a Hollywood legend hallucination, being so sharp at every possible moment. Although, this consistent clarity is useful in terms of character development ... Hard Mouth manages an offbeat expedition while also bringing a one-of-a-kind dark humor to the page. Evading the predictable, Goldblatt wanders through the momentary and unanticipated emotions of knowing the worst is coming, and suggests that even if bad decisions are made along the way, there might be self awareness waiting on the other side.