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***This is a Great Fiction Countdown 2015 post. I’ll be reading and responding to a new short story published or reprinted in 2015 every day throughout the month of December. If you have a recommendation, tweet at me or use the contact form.***
Story Five: “By the Teeth” by Julia Dixon Evans
Originally published in Noble/Gas QTRLY issue 202.3
Read it for free here.
Evans offers an eerie little piece of body horror. In fact, on the Clive Barker Body Horror Scale (TM) “By the Teeth” scores 7/10 weeping sores. The central premise of a girl sprouting innumerable teeth from every body part seems obvious at first. I found myself racking my brain to come up with other pieces incorporating the same conceit. The only thing I came up with was Gaiman’s Corinthian villain from the Sandman.
The horror in this piece is very tactile. Through heavy use of repetition, Evans forces readers to feel the protagonist’s daughter teething from her every fleshy surface and bleeding orifice. It’s a squirm-worthy read, no doubt.
There’s one passage in particular that takes this story out of the realm of the uncanny and makes the whole unfortunate condition of the protagonist’s daughter feel almost clinical:
That night, at home, I climb into her crib. It’s blood-stained, blood-stained like everything is in our house. Every day when I carried her inside my body, I cried, hormonal and sick, back when her bones were just beginning to take their shape, before her cells had decided to make her like this. When she was born, I felt such joy and relief to no longer be creating her, to no longer be birthing her.
It’s interesting from a craft perspective how that one reference to her “cells” shifts the story from the realm of weird horror to dark scifi. It changes the way I think about the daughter’s condition. Something to think about.
Evans’ choice to tell this tale from the perspective of the mother is effective. We feel the daughter’s pain even without her POV, just as a mother would. For the reader, the suffering is perhaps even more pronounced because we experience it as a parent watching her daughter cut herself and bleed with every motion. This orientation couples the physical pain with a sense helplessness that’s just galling.