Larkie reviews Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

Nothing But Blackened Teeth cover

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Trigger warning for suicidal ideation 

A compact novella with a haunted house story, strained friendships, and a hungry ghost, I had high expectations for Nothing But Blackened Teeth. Were they met? Kind of, but overall the book fell a little flat for me.

First off, there are five leads: the main character Cat, rich white guy Philip, engaged couple Talia and Faiz, and snarky comedian Lin. They’ve rented out a haunted Heian period mansion (which, of course, is said to be haunted) for Talia and Faiz’s wedding. Most of the book focused more on their friendship dynamics and how quickly they fall apart, like…literally from the get go they’re already at each other’s throats. This trip sounds like it would have been a nightmare even without a ghost trying to keep one of them as her eternal companion. 

The creep factor started in early as well, as Cat indulges some morbid fantasies around the legends of the house, and in the beginning I really enjoyed it. Cat has a tendency to go on rambling tangents that have a bit of a darker turn, due in part to her previous struggles with her mental health, and it really adds to the setting. 

However, after the first visual appearance of the ghost, I found a lot of the scares to be a bit of a let down. The characters seem more focused on fighting each other and discussing how the narratives of horror movies usually spin out than they do on the ghost, who is perfectly happy to watch them destroy themselves rather than contribute much of anything on her own. It feels like Khaw is trying to spin the narrative on who horror movies usually treat as fodder—the queer characters, the comic relief—versus who is allowed to be the hero. But it bogs down the whole story and detracts from some of the excellent imagery and visceral horror that is there. Maybe I would have liked some of the later horror sections more if they were really allowed to shine, but the horror elements feel like they’re secondary to the somewhat forced melodrama of the characters.

Danika review When Fox Is a Thousand by Larissa Lai

when fox is a thousand

First things first, don’t read the back cover of When Fox Is a Thousand. At least not on the 2004 reprint by Arsenal Pulp Press. The plot points it describes don’t come into play until near the end of the book.

This is a slow burn of a read. It’s beautifully done: it’s told through three alternating viewpoints, all indicated by a symbol in the beginning of each section. One is the story of the fox, who is nearing her thousandth birthday, which will bring her greater powers and knowledge than she has known in her long lifetime. Sparsely scattered through the book is the story of Yu Hsuan-Chi, a real-life poetess from ninth-century China. Lastly is Artemis’s story, a young woman in modern-day Vancouver.

When Fox Is a Thousand is told like folklore. Even Artemis’s story, which is primarily about struggling with relationships of all kinds as a twenty-something while dealing with sexism and racism, has an undercurrent of magic and the surreal. The narrative keeps creeping forward, but embedded are many short fable-like stories, inspired by Chinese mythology.

Each narrator sets a different tone in her story. I was most intrigued by Yu Hsuan-Chi’s story, who falls for a woman during the T’ang dynasty, and that without even realizing until the afterword that she was inspired by a real person. I picked up this book unsure if it actually had queer women content or not, and was surprised to find that each of the three narrators has relationships with other women.

Artemis’s story was the hardest for me to read. I think it’s very true to being in your early twenties, especially if you’re involved in a social justice-type group. (Though that is entirely my own bias.) She has relationships with multiple women throughout the novel, but they seem to always end up toxic, even just as friendships. They discuss politics and activism without applying the underlying assumption of compassion and respect to each other. I found it painfully honest at times.

There isn’t a clear resolution at the end of this story, but that’s not the point. It’s immersive and atmospheric, unfolding at a languid pace while enveloping you in the poetic language. This is a book that I think would benefit from rereading, and to be honest, I can’t believe this isn’t a classic of lesbian fiction. It’s beautiful and challenging. Definitely worth the read.