... the perfect baby shower gift for someone you hate. Absolutely captivating and scathingly frank, it’s a story of motherhood stripped of every ribbon of sentimentality. Arnett conjures up the disturbing mixture of devotion and alienation endured by anyone raising a child they don’t understand, don’t even like ... Arnett’s sympathetic attention to the cascading flow of Sammy’s depression is heartbreaking. But between every chapter, the novel offers one-page moments, each from a different minor character’s point of view. It’s just a fleeting switch in perspective, easy to discount, but oddly base-shifting if you pay attention. Again and again, we’re reminded that Sammie’s hermetically sealed understanding of her dismal situation is not necessarily complete—or even correct ... strangely shrewd and tender ... Arnett is that rare, brave writer willing to articulate the darkest thoughts even the best parents entertain while trudging along through the most challenging job in the world.
Arnett’s humor jets throughout and is funniest when it’s curt ... Arnett’s account of self-imposed L.G.B.T. respectability politics is poignant: How can we be human without reflecting badly on others in the community, when our failures already seem, 'for lots of folks … like a foregone conclusion?' ... This structure is well intended: We’re meant to assemble our own understanding of Samson. But it’s a pity With Teeth gives us only abled people’s materials to work with, as it ends up framing disabled people as the unknowable objects of others’ scrutiny. The novel wants us to critique Sammie’s prejudices; it might even understand those prejudices as ableist. But ultimately its treatment of disabled people is indistinguishable from that of broader society ... Any narrative necessarily reflects a given consciousness. This particular one depicts disabled people through an abled character’s lens in order to facilitate the latter’s arc. Some readers take inherent issue with such books existing. I don’t; all storytelling foregrounds someone, and the protagonist needn’t always be me. But there are many novels about the experience of abled parents of disabled children, few that care what it’s like to be that kid, and fewer still that imagine disabled adults as having our own complex inner lives ... sublimely weird, fluently paced, brazenly funny and gayer still, and it richly deserves to find readers. I just hope someone will finally ask Samson what’s wrong.
... among the more satisfying and accomplished books of the past year ... Arnett signals her writerly evolution from the first lines of this new work. Allowing no spare moment for the reader to acclimate themselves, the taut, confident opening chapter of With Teeth immediately establishes the punctuated tension and merciless urgency that the earlier effort sometimes lacked. For all the accomplishments of the latter...Arnett now pushes in a new direction and ends up with a follow-up novel of greater skill, ambition, and poignancy than the first ... In a manner more fully realized than in her first effort, here Arnett crafts a protagonist that the reader comes to feel for despite her clear flaws ... For all the wisdom of the point-of-view decision on the macro level, at the micro Arnett’s mechanics and structure do, at spots, belie a lack of total comfort in the form ... The completely unexpected, nearly absurd, wonderfully strange passage that serves as inspiration for the title is indicative of With Teeth’s refreshing interest in the art of the scene. At times, Arnett would be better served staying a while longer in a given moment...Overall, however, the book moves so quickly in leaping, lingering, then leaping once more, that the reader is constantly engaged and excited to read ahead ... As the book progresses, it is the strangeness, the off-white coloring in which Arnett paints, that provides the momentum ... The best moments of With Teeth are when Arnett fully settles into a slice of Sammi’s life and mind, letting rich prose seamlessly guide the narrative from physical description to inner thoughts. In a novel that often embodies in form the hectic interpersonal dynamics of the twenty-first century American family that it takes as content, even brief moments of reprise stand as key landmarks. By taking a second to breathe, we are able to keep pace with so wide-ranging a plot, to stay invested in the characters and outcome ... Arnett has managed to wrangle the wilds of love, family, and motherhood to tell an engaging, voluminous story in bright, lucid prose.