The Tooth Fairy, the 1996 novel by late British author Graham Joyce, is the kind of dark fiction that eschews quick, easy scares for something more disquieting. Its pervading feeling of unease sticks with you long after you finish.
Central characters Sam, Terry and Clive are regular kids growing up in a working class town in 1960s England, prone to the boredom and silliness you’d expect. Things take an odd turn for them, though, the day Sam loses a tooth and sticks it under his pillow, expecting the usual compensation.
Sam awakes as the Tooth Fairy sneaks in through an open window. But unlike the creature he expected, this fairy is a nasty little trickster who smells of horse’s sweat and chamomile and threatens Sam and his family.
After that first chilling encounter, the entity continues to drift in and out of Sam’s childhood and adolescence. Of course, Sam’s the only one who can see the fairy, whose sex, appearance and moods change seem to change in lock step with his growing pains. For much of the book, we’re left wondering whether the being is real or a figment of his fragile psyche.
Unlike most speculative fiction, The Tooth Fairy isn’t plot-driven. Instead, it’s structured like a literary novel. The book traces the growth of the characters through a series of episodes during their formative years. We laugh and wince as Sam and his buddies engage in petty vandalism, are bullied by older boys, discover masturbation and, ultimately, girls.
And that’s what makes The Tooth Fairy so memorable. It works as both as creepy dark fantasy and as a coming-of-age novel. Joyce brings Sam and his friends to such vivid life, one wonders how many of the experiences were his own. The characters feel real and we identify with them, which makes the supernatural threat all the more disturbing.
A great novel with great characters deserves a great drink, so let’s toast Graham Joyce’s The Tooth Fairy with a worthy cocktail of the same name. This one, inspired by the Earl Grey tea-infused Lady Grey cocktail, doesn’t smell of horse’s sweat, but it does combine chamomile with that most English of spirits: gin.
The Tooth Fairy
2 oz. gin
1 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. chamomile-infused simple syrup (see below)
3 drops of orange bitters
Stip of lemon peel
Shake gin, lemon juice, chamomile syrup and bitters over ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a strip of lemon peel.
Chamomile-Infused Simple Syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp dried chamomile
Bring the sugar and water to a boil over medium heat. Add the tea and let it continue to boil for a minute or so. Remove from heat and continue to steep for an hour. Cool and strain syrup into a jar. It keeps refrigerated for up to a month.