It seems that more and more books, films and TV shows feature relationships between mothers and children who despise each other and seek each other’s slow death. In Zoje Stage’s debut novel, you can’t blame put-upon Suzette Jensen for wanting to be free from her monstrous daughter, Hanna. Indeed, by page five you’re praying for the little horror to eat it in the worst way possible.
What’s less clear is why Hanna hates her mother so much. What could Suzette have possibly done to Hanna, 7 years old when our tale opens, to fill her with such psychotic rage? On top of this, Hanna’s dad, Alex, is so love-blinded that he refuses to see how utterly atrocious Hanna is.
Soon enough, it becomes clear there is no answer, for Stage’s real subject is the conundrum of evil itself. There’s simply no reason for loving, gentle, organic veggie-eating, granola-crunching progressive parents who live in an eco-friendly house to produce something like Hanna. For these two benighted bobos to wonder where they went wrong as parents is as ridiculous as Cesar Millan wondering why he can’t bring the werewolves in Tolkien’s Silmarillion to heel. It’s sad and frustrating to watch the Jensens rush from pillar to post, trying to get other good-hearted folk to help their daughter, when it’s clear there is no hope.
Yet what else can they do with this child whose one and only goal is to kill her mother? What can the reader do? Hanna’s chapters conjure a sickened incredulousness in the reader. Hanna is not so much a character as an abyss; her mind is so warped and inhuman that you even fear for her big, cuddly Swedish bear of a dad. Because of this, her parents’ ultimate solution can be only temporary, as are all “victories” over evil. Don’t be surprised if there’s a sequel to Baby Teeth before long.