#REVIEW: Split Tooth, by Tanya Tagaq

Content warning: Split Tooth contains rape, sexual assault, child abuse, infanticide and a really weird and explicit erotic dream sequence involving a fox god.

I don’t really know how the hell to write this. I’m 20 books into my planned 52 books by women of color in 2020 project, and in all honesty I came across this and basically bought it blind upon realizing that Tanya Tagaq was a Canadian Inuit and I’m fairly certain I’ve made it through 43 years and have never read a book by a Canadian Indigenous author. Split Tooth really straddles and/or defies genre categorization; I saw it referred to as a “mythobiography” in one interview with the author and I like that word so let’s go with that. It’s partially memoir, but with one foot firmly in mythic fantasy (the main character is impregnated by the Northern Lights late in the book, for example) and probably 15% of the total wordcount is poetry. It tells the story of a young Inuk girl growing up in Nunavut in the 1970s, and while there are moments of carefree joy and childhood scattered here and there it is safe to assume that there are a lot of things about growing up in that place and time as an Indigenous person that are, frankly, terrible, and Tagaq’s depiction of the sexual abuse that her main character has to endure are unflinching and harrowing. She’s not going to sugarcoat anything in this book; the content warning at the beginning of this piece is as necessary as anything else I’ve ever written.

But here’s the thing, and you need to realize as you’re reading that I’m saying this about a book with poetry in it: the writing in this book is beautiful, and while under normal circumstances I am the type of reader for whom “it’s 15% poetry” would cause me to not pick up the book in the first place, the way the book slides from explicit, brutal realism to naturalistic fantasy sequences to the poetic sections (which can contain elements of either) is just astounding. I haven’t ever read anything like Split Tooth before, and I’m super glad I went with my gut and just ordered the damn thing without thinking about it too much, because it really isn’t a good match with most of the stuff I usually read and thinking about it too much would probably have led to me not purchasing it. Sometimes my tendency to impulse-buy books works in my favor; this is definitely one of those times. Take the content warning seriously– while, at 190 pages, this is a quick read, it’s definitely not an easy one, but it’s absolutely worth it.

3:11 PM, Thursday May 7: 1,244,119 confirmed cases and 74,844 American deaths.