Monday, February 25, 2008
monday book review: sharp teeth by toby barlow

Toby Barlow's version of Los Angeles is one that teems with werewolves who run in rival gangs, challenge Mexican crystal meth kingpins, change form at will and regardless of the moon’s cycle, and manage to go largely unnoticed by the human population. They infiltrate the city’s animal shelters, play bridge, surf, battle one another for dominance, build and destroy crime empires, and fall in love. And inexplicably, Barlow chooses to tell their story entirely in blank verse.

If you're anything like me, this all sounds way too good to be true; however, it's fortunately not.

When I first heard about Sharp Teeth – a book being simultaneously likened to The Sopranos, The Iliad, and An American Werewolf in London – I knew I had to read it. However, being a realist I approached it with a certain amount of hesitation; after all, to actually pull off a werewolf book written in verse and set in East LA with any semblance of seriousness would be quite an achievement. Miraculously, Barlow managed to avoid any number of possible pitfalls, and instead wrote the most original, fun, and unexpectedly beautiful books I’ve read in some time. It rocked my sock off, but if you're still hesitant to believe that Homer and Lycanthropes can both comfortably provide points of inspiration for the same book, here's a taste that will hopefully allay those fears and whet your appetite:

Annie had never promised him anything more
than a change, which was honestly all he wanted,
a new skin.
He wanted to strip away the pain but not the sadness,
he wanted to breathe real life into every memory
but still somehow let go,
he wanted to become something else
while holding on to everything he had.
All he had, it turned out, was love.
She was gone, but her love was still alive inside him.
It was the only thing keeping him on this earth,
the only reason he could find to continue,
to protect that one part of her that
still remained, her love for him,
the small ray of light that lay
within the shadowed hollows of his heart.

But he couldn't live without her,
so he took on another kind of life.
It was that simple.
So now he is simply something more
and nothing less.
See? A werewolf book can be eloquent, understated and beautiful. Who knew?

Sharp Teeth
Toby Barlow
2008, 309 pages

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