The Tooth Fairy

Graham Joyce
The Tooth Fairy Cover

The Tooth Fairy


Joyce is not too specific about dates in this novel, but I place the opening sometime in the late 1950's. Two families have taken their pre-adolescent sons and one of the boys' friends on an outing to the local pond. Clive is "torturing a king-crested newt" on side of the pond. Sam and Terry sit together on the other side, dangling their feet in the water. What looks at first to be a narrow green log turns out to be a pike, and it bites off Terry's two smallest toes from his left foot. This is the first of several losses Terry will suffer in this very strange coming of age novel that will see these three working-class boys who live outside of Coventry, England, to the time at which they go their separate ways to London, or to University, or into a local trade.

Joyce's novel would be a good, if typical, coming of age story if it were not for the result of a wager the boys make a few days – or weeks, or months, Joyce is never too specific – after Terry has lost his toes. Sam has lost a tooth, and the three boys are having the sort of dead serious discussion that only preadolescents can have on the existence of the tooth fairy. Is she real, or do your parents put the money under your pillow. They decide on a test. Sam will not reveal the lost baby tooth to his parents, but he will put it under his pillow. The morning will bring the answer.

During the night, Sam awakens to finds a small man in a green and yellow-striped trousers sitting in his room. "You can see me," the man says, distraught and trapped. Sam and the tooth fairy will continue to interact for the next decade, the tooth fairy's presence being at times helpful and at other times a bother. As Sam enters puberty, the fairy changes gender, but never his/her clothes, which begin to show increasing wear as the years go by. Sam, like all boys, has a lot on his mind. There's the casual vandalism he and his friends get up to, vandalism that eventually attracts the police. There is also attempted homosexual rape and murder. And a suicide and more murder. And sex and one of the funniest attempts at losing one's virginity I have read in some time. Through all this, there is a sense that Joyce might have written this novel without the supernatural presence of the tooth fairy, whose reality is never in question. But as the story progresses, it becomes clear that the most important work Sam has to do involves his working out of just what his relationship to the fairy means.