Note: Thanks to the good folks at Netgalley and Brain Lag for providing the ARC of this title.
Been looking for a book combining the holy trinity of root canal work, the Mormon Church and shapeshifting alien hive entities? Trust me, I know the feeling. But fear not, with Extreme Dentistry your wait is over! This is one of the stranger backs I’ve had the pleasure of reading in recent months, but can such disparate elements really be thrown together to create something viable? Yes. Just as long as you’re not looking for anything resembling any kind of sense…
Arthur Percy leads a mostly unenviable life. A lapsed Mormon approaching his middle years, he’s accomplished and skilled at his job yet is constantly passed over for promotion in favour of ‘the Beautifuls’; vastly more presentable and much younger colleagues whose utter lack of knowledge and people skills present no obstacle to their meteoric corporate rise. Resigned to living forever in their shadow, Arthur retreats to the solace of his family and his uneventful home life. Until this life is interrupted by an unexpected and unaneasthetised emergency root canal operation in Singapore.
Arthur’s new dentist, devout Mormon elder Dr. Cal Stewart begins to pay undue and possibly criminal attention to Arthur, his behaviour becoming ever more erratic until he’s forced to divulge the nasty truth. Arthur is surrounded by real-life body-snatchers, parasitic aliens who take over their hosts and feed on their thoughts and emotions as well as their physical bodies. A simple toothache is just the warning sign that you’re in danger. Thanks to the swift actions of Dr Stewart and his colleagues Arthur is saved in time and inducted into the international, multi-faith taskforce (Canadian Reformed Church Of The Latter Day Saints Division) waging war against the hive menace.
So I guess I won’t have to reiterate that Extreme Dentistry is something of a strange read. It is, and gloriously so. Unlike some of the more outlandish works of bizarro fiction which end up choking on their own forced otherness, Hugh Spencer’s tale of gum disease and anal fear-rape (seriously) manages to come across as utterly effortless and natural. Somehow this works through a tactic of disposing with endless exposition and instead denying the reader any explanation of what the hell is going on, just taking it all in its narrative stride. In fact I noted to one colleague while reading that Arthur’s sections in particular (the story focuses on him but switches viewpoints now and again) felt less like reading than having having the story related to me in a pub over a few pints by the man himself.
There are a fair few themes examined in the course of Extreme Dentistry, from love to urban alienation. More than anything though it’s quite a savage attack on modern consumerism and corporate culture. The concept of the Beautifuls was one I could perfectly relate to, having worked in the marketing industry for many years previously. The obvious loathing Spencer has for this particular office-dwelling species played very well with me, although those who have not experienced it first hand may naively assume his depictions to lapse into caricature. They’re like that! Really! And he has plenty to say about the modern penchant for shopping mall life and its obvious links to the decline of individuality and creativity. There’s even a handy fictional work within the story to explain to us the role of the mall in harvesting victims for the aliens, An Occult History Of North American Shopping Malls.
So yes, it’s a very silly read but should not be passed over for that reason. Let the oddities draw you in to this unfeasible but all-too-familiar world. Oh, and if you hate dentists then beware, it gets a bit graphic at times. I’ll leave you with one of my favourite short films to get you in the mood…