Stephanie M. Wytovich
Splitting Teeth with Tanya Tagaq
I’ve been a fan of Tanya Tagaq’s music for years now. She is a Canadian Inuk throat singer and an experimental vocalist, and trust me when I saw that her music is ethereal, otherworldly, primitive—the type of sounds and melodies that make you feel haunted and like you’re surrounded by wolves. Needless to say, when I saw that she had a book out, I immediately added it to my cart because I couldn’t wait to see how she translated the rhythm and depth of her voice to poetry and prose on the page.
As predicated, I was not disappointed.
Split Tooth is a book about magic and nature and the violence of human existence, and reading it was akin to watching a shaman work. Transported to a small town in Nunavut in the 1970s, the story centers around a small girl and her experiences with life, death, assault, and love. Half coming-of-age story, half mythological memoir, this book takes a fierce and blunt outlook on spirituality, possession, the transformation of the female self, and our ever-shifting discussion for how we define the body and our relationship to it.
This breathtakingly beautiful book allowed me to feel quieted, still. When I read it, I read it without distraction, and I took breaks to breathe and meditate because the weight of the secrets and lyrics that the main character was sharing with me made me feel privileged, honored. I felt like I was engaging in a sisterhood, a shared experience that I know so many women, including myself, have felt as we’ve walked life’s path from maiden to mother to crone. In a lot of ways, it felt like I was experiencing a dream, like I was standing outside in the sun and feeling snow drift down on face.
It was powerful. strange.
It was painful.
Tagaq’s words are filled with blood and light and you can taste that as you digest her observations, her diaries, her fiction. This is not an easy read, but it is an important and worthwhile read, and while brutal, Tagaq is allowing us to see something both lovely and grotesque, and she’s sharing it with us in a format that defies genre, expectation, and convention.
I hope you’ll pick this one up and give it a try.
Honestly, I can’t recommend it enough.
Side note: I also highly recommend listening to her music. It’s atmospheric in a way that will better inform you about her and her art as you make your way through the book.