Foreword Reviews

Cotton Teeth

Clarion Rating: 5 out of 5

Cotton Teeth is a memoir that holds its audience in thrall by applying humor and style to its stories of endurance.

Told with a comic’s dark wit, Glenn Rockowitz’s Cotton Teeth is an unsettling, unsparing memoir about the ravages of cancer and the horrors of child abuse.

Rockowitz, a comedian, writer, and filmmaker, focuses his book on two defining experiences: of undergoing cancer treatment at the same time as his father; and of surviving weeks of horrific abuse at a tortuous summer camp that he attended when he was seven years old. The gritty details of both experiences are highlighted in stark manners: they involve blood, vomiting, fainting, bullying, bed wetting, and sexual abuse. Indeed, there are moments of the book in which it seems surprising that anyone survived at all.

The book’s dismal stories are printed on a black background; the image of a moth flutters at the head of each chapter. These are fitting devices that complement the narrative as it shifts between its two eras. Rockowitz struggles with whether he should tell his dying father about his childhood trauma. And, while carrying the burdens of his past, he also tries to absorb his father’s advice on how to live and die well. But the book’s darkest moments are juxtaposed with expressions of hope, too, seen in the metaphorical endurance of wind-whipped trees.

And amid all the darkness, Rockowitz (who formed a nonprofit comedy group for terminal patients) also finds cause for laughter. He recalls delivering wisecracks to his friends and his father, and locates tender moments of love and appreciation among otherwise difficult accounts. Further, the book is honest in its self-assessments: diagnosed with cancer, Rockowitz recalls cracking under the pressure, and admits that he ignored ominous symptoms, picked fights with strangers, and avoided his wife. He also flirted with infidelity. Expressions of consuming anger toward healthy people combine with remembrances of his overwhelming fear of losing time: even sleep comes to seem like a waste.

The prose wanders into the territory of poetry, full of metaphors, descriptive language, and artful repetitions. It takes on the appearance of a narrative poem, too, because of its left-justified text. And its work is further structured as a series of scenes that follow a particular arc. As a result of this careful crafting: every moment of Rockowitz’s story achieves its aims, standing out as either poignant or repugnant.

Cotton Teeth is a devastating memoir about enduring cancer and child abuse; its stories are told with style, making it also funny, touching, and worthwhile.

Reviewed by Brandee Gruener

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Reviews make no guarantee that the publisher will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Load Next Review