Review: Extreme Dentistry by A. D. Spencer

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911XpX0-xPL._SL1500_File Size: 1532 KB
Print Length: 301 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1928011012
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Brain Lag (March 13, 2014)

WARNING: spoilers.

Mormon dentists who fight inhuman creatures that prey on people in shopping malls. When I first picked up Hugh A. D. Spencer’s Extreme Dentistry, I thought, This is my kind of novel! And it was. Up to a point.

The first half of the book is hilarious. The main narrator, Arthur Percy, has a sharp wit, which allows Spencer to take clever satirical jabs at such targets as office politics and suburban mall culture. Humourous lines bubble up from character and situation in a fast pace; some passages require more than one reading to fully appreciate all of the humour they contain.

The narrative develops in two streams: in one, Percy is an office drone who hates his life. In the other, he has been recruited by practicing Mormon Calvin Stewart, his dentist, and is fighting the creatures known as The Hive. Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that, since the narrative jumps around within each of these streams. Occasionally, I had trouble placing a scene within the chronology of events, but, by and large, this structure works well to involve readers by getting them to wonder how the two streams of the story will ultimately be connected.

Then, roughly halfway into the novel, the horror kicks in.

At that point, we find out that Arthur’s bosses are members of The Hive masquerading as human beings, and that they have been doing terrible things to him for a decade or more. Almost immediately, they kidnap his wife and children and he is recruited by Calvin to fight The Hive (indeed, part of his motivation to join the fight is because it may help him find his missing family members). In the second half of the book, the main character has to deal with his twin traumatisations, and the battle against The Hive is engaged in a violent, bloody manner.

The problem with Extreme Dentistry is that, although the two halves of the book work well as examples of their different genres, they don’t quite mesh. In my last review, of Jen Frankel’s Undead Redhead (https://amazingstories.com/2014/06/review-undead-redhead/), I talked about her approach to combining tropes from the genres of humour and horror, pointing out that the genres tend to work at cross-purposes, so combining them must be done with care. Undead Redhead downplays the horror and foregrounds the humour. Extreme Dentistry foregrounds one, then the other.

Despite the novel’s serious turn, though, Spencer continues to sporadically attempt to be funny. Although the humourous voice is more or less the same, it no longer works. This is in part because the humour in the second half of the book is more isolated, which makes it harder to develop a comic momentum; mostly, though, it is because the humour is overwhelmed by the horror. I think a better approach would have been to have abandoned the humour altogether and made the second half of the book straight horror; yes, it would initially have been something of a shock (although, arguably, what happens to Arthur is just that), but it would have made the tone of the second half of the novel more consistent.

There is a hint of this problem in the first half of the book. Roughly eighty pages in, Calvin starts narrating sections. The problem is, his voice is not nearly as funny as that of Arthur. On the one hand, I admire Spencer’s desire not to make fun of the Mormon faith, which is often a crude punching bag for humourists (and, yes, I suppose I have been guilty of that). On the other hand, compared to Arthur, Calvin comes off as bland and humourless. The fact that Spencer has Calvin say things like, “As Arthur might have said in this situation…” to inject some humour into his narration just foregrounds how lacking he is in the quality himself. I think, though, there could have been ways of giving Calvin funny, human traits while respecting his Mormon faith.

But that’s just me being over-analytical again. The truth is that I enjoyed reading this book. Extreme Dentistry is very funny and quite horrific. Fans of both genres will find a lot to enjoy in it. Just not at the same time.

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