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FICTION : BABY TEETH by Blythe Holbrooke (Simon & Schuster: $16.95; 256 pp.).

August 16, 1987|Alida Becker

Remember when you were a kid and your baby teeth fell out--and you couldn't keep from fussing with your poor sore mouth? You probably drove your parents nuts, a feeling readers of journalist Blythe Holbrooke's curiously irritating first novel will find all too familiar. Ostensibly the saga of two summers when a wealthy New Jersey family got serious about self-destruction, it's actually more of a test of patience.

Holbrooke's narrator, the disingenuous and suitably gap-toothed Allie Gardner, serves as an acolyte to her narcissistic mother, who torments Allie's alcoholic father by dallying with a building contractor--when she isn't taking off on flimsily camouflaged visits to an old beau in Paris. Dad retaliates by shooting off guns and disappearing into mindless, violent rages. But Mom, although no slouch with a slap herself, is also an ace at long, drawn-out torture, keeping boyfriends and husband dangling in a limbo of arguing and indecision. With two such ogres to play off, you'd think earnest little Allie would start looking pretty good. But she tells her story in such an awkwardly moony, hazily unfocused way--merging scenes from one summer with that of the next and running everything in circles--that the novel gains hardly any tension or momentum, and evokes only the most exhausted kind of sympathy. Fittingly enough, it ends with both a bang and a whimper. And nary a sign of the tooth fairy.

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