everything-is-teeth

This mesmerizing and beautifully weird memoir has novelist Evie Wyld going over her childhood years through the lens of extreme, irrational fear, tracing its beginnings and following how it defined so much of her, only to eventually add philosophical depth to her universal view. Wyld’s fear? Sharks. Big ones. Big ones that will kill you and everyone.

Wyld lived in England, but visited family in Australia frequently, and it’s there that the phobia began to blossom. It started with fishermen talking about danger lurking under the surface of the water, which built an enticing suspense for the mysteries that were out there. It manifested upon Wyld’s encounter with a book by a shark attack survivor, with its account and photos vivid and graphic, grasping like a vice onto her vulnerable kid brain and soon effecting every mundane moment of her life.

Wyld’s fear of sharks might at times elevate into terror, but it also can be a strange comfort to her, thanks to the academic side that has her taking in facts and figures and accounts that she uses to soothe herself, and even, in one case, her brother as he gets into some trouble. For Wyld, sharks are the unseen monsters on the far horizon, hiding but never seen, something to anticipate, but also prepare for, and that preparation gives her purpose in dealing with her phobia.

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Artist Joe Sumner brings a visual intensity to Wyld’s fear by contrasting the style in which he renders the sharks. While Wyld’s life is stark black and white, flat, dark but cartoonish, sharks take on a more depthful rendering, always textured creatures with such a three-dimensional feel that they give the art a collage-like feel when they appear, monsters from a completely other illustrative dimension invading the cartoon comfort of Wyld’s world.

But this isn’t a story of buckling to fear. It’s really one of growth, and Wyld’s interactions with actual sharks brings an understanding of grim reality, even sympathy and respect, making her perception of the creatures as intricate as Sumner’s renderings of them. Their existence causes Wyld’s first thoughts about mortality and change, about time passing and things changing, about the order of the world and life moving on. Sharks bring about beauty and sadness and nostalgia, and, most importantly, empathy for the other.

Everything Is Teeth begins as charming and quirky as it allows the reader to completely enter her mind and share in her journey, but it ends as something elevated, philosophical, and, in a way, devastating as it turns its gaze from the sharks to us.