Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow
Never judge a book by its cover. But when you are looking blindly for something to read and the book in question is a lovely hardback with slightly embossed boards, blurb from John Burnside among others on the inside cover and the word werewolves in the plot description, then maybe that should be enough to tickle the tastebuds.
Sharp Teeth is a strange concoction; a free-verse novel concerning a group of lycanthropes in modern LA. I am not any kind of expert on poetic structures but free verse looks suspiciously like prose broken up into easier to digest lines. Barlow clearly wants to create something in the line of the epic and mythical poems of the past and as the book progresses, to a large part, he succeeds. There is a rhythmn created and enhanced by the structure and it somehow seems right that this tale of gangs and those living outside of normal society should look and sound a little like a cross between Ginsberg and The Odyssey.
Lark is the leader of the pack. He has his 'Girl', he has plans and an eye on the the other packs that may be operating in the country but he fails to see the coup that wrests his control of the gang and sends him on the run. Whilst he hides as a domestic housedog in Pasadena, 'Girl' has stayed in human form and captured the heart of Anthony a local dogcatcher. As she tries to keep her past hidden from him she works on how to elicit revenge from those rival gang members who tore apart her pack. Lark meanwhile is building a new pack from the outcasts of LA to make moves of his own. This is a novel filed with animal violence neatly summed up by one of the gang members.
'We are wolves,' Cutter chants
in his mind.
'We don't find the weak. We
don't prey on the slow.
We simply eat absolutely
There is also a fantastic description of one initiate undergoing his first 'change' which brings to mind the thrill of watching David Naughton transform in front of your eyes in An American Werewolf In London.
But this is also really a love story and when you strip away the setting and circumstance you are left with lines of very simple beauty which describe what it is like to fall in love.
There love is just about the weight
of the casserole she's taking out of the oven right now.
Their love is eternal because time
seems to have fled, embarrassed
to be sharing such a small apartment with so much dumb affection.
This is a book which hits the right spots, a modern telling of an ancient tale, stripped of the Hammer clichés . LA seems the perfect setting for a tale of the violence and pressure that builds when you treat a group as an underclass. Above all, this is a highly enjoyable book, very entertaining and devoured quickly.
And for those who remember that iconic scene from the movie here is a little track to take you back.
Creedence Clearwater Revival - Bad Moon Rising