With all the Twilight-fodder out there, one might forget that there are contemporary (Young) Adult books about werewolves and other assorted fantastic content, that are actually worth reading for more than the guilty pleasure of a ‘fantastic love story’ that lovelorn maidens seem to be interested in these days. One of these books is Toby Barlow’s debut Sharp Teeth. The book deals with packs of lycanthropes (werewolves) who are not only battling each other, but who’re also planning to take over Los Angeles, with each pack having a different strategy to reach that goal. The originality of Barlow’s novel is that it’s written in free verse. Now, for someone who’s not interested in poetry or heroic epics, this might souns like a hard read, potentially boring even. However, the language Barlow uses is so strong and captivating, that at every step of the way it feels as if you’re reading a noir thriller. “Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat”. This Robert Frost quote is the motto of the book, and that’s what this book does in more ways than one.
Barlow weaves different subplots together like the best auteur (the movie references are never far away in this book, by the way, and you can easily see how it could be another Sin City – Barlow himself refers to it as “a graphic novel without the pictures”) . The story starts with Anthony Silvo, a self-professed dogcatcher who falls in love with a mysterious woman. She leads a second life as a lycanthrope, working for Lark, the leader of a pack of dogs. Her growing feelings for Anthony makes her regret choices she made in the past. Lark suspects that competing packs of lycanthropes are after his power and he prepares for battle (leading an undercover dog’s life (as Buddy) with Bonnie, who fondly scratches his ears every evening…). Other subplots include detective Peabody’s investigation into murders which are clearly dog-related; underground bridge tournaments tied to the LA drug trade; and Baron’s tale of betrayal.
As I said, the language reveals great artistry, but at the same time, it never feels contrived or self-conscious (there’s nothing worse than a writer who knows he’s writing a good book and feels smug about his writing skills). On the contrary, for every violent outburst (of both the language and the ahum…dogs), there’s an ironic and sometimes even laugh-out-loud joke hidden beneath the words (notice the names of the characters, for example, or dogs loving tacos and other fried food, anyone?)
Highly recommended is the accompanying website http://www.sharpteeththebook.com/, which brings out the humor of the book even more (watch the Public Service Announcement!).
Though the book is by no means perfect (the end feels somewhat sudden for some of the characters in the book), Toby Barlow is definitely a writer to watch.