Kristen Arnett’s latest subject is the gay parent of an autistic-coded son

with teeth
by Kristen Arnett

He is only a child, but Samson is already burdened by a troubled family member: his mother, Sammy, suffers from being on the non-autistic spectrum. He can’t meet her support needs for platitude and eye contact, and so is challenged by his tough behavior. Samson’s own neurotype is unknown but heavily autistic-coded: he has sensory problems with food, texture, touch; The neurotic does not easily grasp social norms; He rarely smiles, as far as his mother can understand (though we must make allowance for his weaknesses). That mother, Sammy, grew up with conservative parents, and is now raising Samson with his wife, Monica. Kristen Arnett’s second novel, “With Teeth”, is mostly about Sammy.

He doesn’t have only his son on his mind: he has a faltering marriage with Monica, a soaring high-flyer; her growing relationship with Lenore, a divorced man who lures forbidden spirits into her children’s swimming practice; She pursues a jealous neighbor; Her hot doctor.

Arnett’s humor jets across and is at its funniest when it’s Kurt: “Screaming that you weren’t crazy, a person in his opinion seemed crazy.” Continuing his previous focus on gay life in Florida—in the story collection “Felt in the Jaw” and his first novel, “Mostly Dead Things”—here arnett Gives a layered account of Sammy’s world: his youth party and head romance with Monica, the still domestic tenderness of the wives, the aggressively straight parenting group, the difference of “hiding in the back corner of the gay bar” , Solo. Sammy wonders at every step whether he is not just a bad person, but a bad ambassador. Arnett’s account of the politics of self-imposed LGBT honor is poignant: how can we be human without reflecting badly on others in the community, when our failures already seem, “to many people … Like a foregone conclusion?”

Between the third-person chapters told from Sammy’s point of view, we get short, italicized accounts from side characters (Lenore, a new boyfriend, a bowling alley manager), each complicating the plot with its own wonderfully incredible. In the end Sammy writes two letters directly to his son, in his last attempt to connect with him.

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