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A novel written in prose regarding ages-old lycanthropes rallying packs to take control of Los Angeles probably belongs in a category by itself. It’s a crime thriller mixed with horror plus a dash of literary themes presented as poetry.
Toby Barlow’s werewolves are a slightly different spin on the typical folklore—one pretty much has to make it their own these days, what with all the werewolf/vampire/zombie chatter in the ethos. The creatures in Sharp Teeth are simply humans that can turn into vicious dogs anytime they please, requiring no full moon to make the change. Also, they are fully aware of their human minds in the dog state.
The story centers around the antagonist Lark, a hardline pack-leader who has lost much of his original team and is in the process of building another—larger—dog-army. Anthony is the ‘kind-of’ hero; a rather bumbling but sweet-hearted dogcatcher who begins to fall in love with a woman who just happens to be a she-wolf in Lark’s pack.
Side note: in the author’s universe, there can be only one she-wolf per pack. She is closely tied to the pack-leader, and is used primarily to ‘satisfy the urges’ of the pack. She is also a sort of keeper of the peace, ensuring the leader’s decisions are carried out by the lower ranks. At the point in the story that we meet the unnamed she-wolf in Lark’s pack, she is ready to get out from under his thumb and move on to a semi-regular life.
Another element in the story is Peabody, a worn-out detective who keeps noticing dogs at crime scenes, or dogs as part of the crime scenes. He investigates further and winds up in the center of an ugly underground world that he could not have imagined.
The author has accomplished a unique feat in boiling down the narrative to only the most necessary information. Despite having a low word-count and sentences throughout chopped to their simplest forms, Sharp Teeth feels rich with detail. There are countless (seriously, tons of them) small, quiet moments of profundity that resemble literary fiction far more than horror thriller; I underlined a number of lovely (or horrifying, or sad) passages for later reference. It was these tiny, beautiful observations that made the book more than the story as a whole.
To speak truth, I would have to applaud the author’s skill as a writer more-so than his ability to tell a great story; the plot is decent—drugs, guns, dogfights, cops—but nothing mind-blowingly original, and the ending is what one might expect. But the fact that Barlow chose to tell such a throat-ripping horror story in a poetry format is what makes it most interesting.
I can’t say that I loved this, but it was a unique experience with many memorable, poetic glimpses. Sharp Teeth was certainly worth a read, but (to flip an old adage) the smaller bits were worth more than the whole.