Tarsitano offers a macabre tale of terror and teeth.
At the opening of this psychological thriller, Johnny Hawk is tied to an old dentist’s chair in a basement, terrified and injured, horrified that his “teeth were gone—and not the ones that were supposed to go.” Readers learn through flashbacks and chapters told from other characters’ points of view that Hawk’s life was thrown into chaos after he discovered his wife was having an affair with another man, leaving him feeling like “a voiceless spectator in a red-light theatre that was playing the movie about the failure of his life.” He eventually heads out toward Los Angeles by car, picking up a hitchhiker and friend along the way, before crossing paths in New Mexico with dentist Wendy Jag after a painful tooth causes him to nearly crash his car. Readers soon learn that she’s actually the novel’s titular character—a sadistic, evil being. Tarsitano’s debut novel unfolds largely in fictional Copper City, which one supporting character describes as cursed; it holds many dark secrets and is, in some ways, reminiscent of Stephen King’s Castle Rock, Maine. Readers of suspense will enjoy Jag’s unnerving backstory as well as the friendships between Hawk and some of the other supporting characters (particularly Jamie, the hitchhiker). Some elements will specifically remind readers of The Shining (1977) and The Dark Half (1989), including its creepy talismans, such as an object left at Jag’s father’s gravesite, “a small pearl, lodged in a thin strip of fresh dirt,” that turns out to be a child’s tooth. There’s some solid horror writing here, with a style that has considerable bite.
A spooky, strange, and enjoyable supernatural novel.