Dustin Long’s ‘Bad Teeth’ merges humor, dark satire and academia
Anyone can appreciate the alliteration of the four cities in “Bad Teeth,” – Brooklyn, Bloomington, Berkeley and Bakersfield – but only true literary minds will notice that they are in reverse alphabetical order. Dustin Long’s latest release is full of these winks at prose, which fans of his first novel, “Icelander” will recognize.
The book features four different interlocking narratives with characters living in the four cities named above, each on his or her own personal journey. A translator named Judas ties the characters together as he travels from city to city searching for a reclusive writer, referred to as the Tibetan David Foster Wallace. In Brooklyn, he develops a crush on the lovely Selah. In Bloomington, he stays with his friend Adam, a hedonistic, frustrated writer. The Berkley section centers around Selah and her shady new boyfriend, and she eventually heads to meet Judas in Bakersfield.
“Not only are the cities in reverse alphabetical order, but they are in reverse chronological order for where I’ve lived,” Long says. “Before writing ‘Bad Teeth,’ I was working on a book that took place in 17th century China, something I knew nothing about. Even with ‘Icelander,’ I’ve never lived anywhere with snow, really. So I knew I wanted to write a book that took place in modern day and only in places I have lived and knew about first hand.”
Another difference between Long’s past works and this one is it’s a bit less cerebral and more attention is paid to character development. “Focusing on the emotional lives of modern characters in a very realistic way was a challenge for me. Part of the reason why I chose to try that was to stretch myself,” Long says.
Long actually had a gem of an idea of what “Bad Teeth” would become when he was an undergraduate. He wrote what he calls a “terrible novel,” that was divided into geographical sections and had a similar quest narrative that “Bad Teeth” would come to have. “Having gone through a similar process helped me have the narrative in mind before I even thought of the plot,” he says. It sounds as if Long himself has gone on his own academic journey through the four cities, and evolving both professionally and personally. There’s nothing “bad” about that at all.
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