"Sharp Teeth" Book Review
Written by James "Spez" Ferguson
Published by HarperCollins
Written by Toby Barlow
2008, 320 pages, Fiction
Book released on January 29th, 2008
Imagine if you will that the strange guy you see walking down the sidewalk might actually be a werewolf. What if he can change into a dog with a thought instead of having to wait for a full moon? And what if he was a part of a gang of lycanthropes roaming the streets, not hunting down humans, but just living and getting by day by day like the rest of us? That's sort of the premise behind Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow. Basically there are rival gangs of werewolves roaming around East Los Angeles. Each of them is fighting for what they feel belongs to them. Just like regular canines, there's a top dog that leads each gang. That leader can be challenged in a fight if he's seen as weak or not worthy. Basic pack mentality.
The first thing that you need to know about Sharp Teeth (aside from the whole bit about werewolves) is that it's written kind of weird. When I first opened the book and saw the prose, I thought "Crap, is this whole thing a big poem?" The words flow like free thought which I first saw as a good fit for the world the characters lived in being they're essentially animals. They wouldn't have neat organized paragraphs in their minds. They would have raw emotion and bursts of thought. This lasted for about three chapters before it got annoying, though. The sentences are broken up in lines, but I read it like the end of each line was a period. Here's what I mean.
This is how it should read:
"This is a normal sentence.
The dog makes a bark sound."
This is how it looked:
"This is a
normal sentence. The dog
makes a bark
See how that can be annoying?
Barlow's werewolves are more dog than giant hulking wolf. They can pass as common household canines if need be and some of the characters do that in order to blend in to surroundings or go into hiding for a little while. This was an interesting take on the werewolf genre because usually these creatures are depicted as giant 6-7 foot tall beasts that still have opposable thumbs. Don't let their appearance fool you, though. After going through a vicious (although brief) transformation, these dogs can tear your throat out at a moment's notice.
The setup for Sharp Teeth seemed great at the start. There was a main pack with Lark at the head of it, but his group is torn apart by some rival lycanthropes. We're then taken along with this new gang which has taken some of the members in from Lark's pack. We also follow Lark as he splits off and tries to start a new tribe to take down the werewolves that destroyed his previous posse. This branches out into a third group and a cop and some dog catchers and some weird drug dealer guy until eventually there are way too many characters going around. If the story just centered on Lark and a couple of other dogs it would have flowed a lot better. As it stands, I just stopped caring or never grew to care about any of the characters because I was only provided with snippets of their lives and thoughts. I'd like one of the characters and 10 chapters later when the book centered on them again, I had already lost interest.
There are also a couple of gimmicky things within the book that seemed unnecessary. For example, the main female character isn't given a name a la Daniel Craig's character in Layer Cake. That was interesting in the movie but here it just feels forced or like the author is trying too hard to be different. Is she supposed to be any girl that's in the reader's mind? Or can she be any woman walking by you at the mall? Or someone you see every day?
Sometimes it's really easy to tell when you're reading someone's first novel. Despite being "critically acclaimed" and on a bunch of Top 10 lists for 2008, you can definitely tell that Sharp Teeth is Toby Barlow's first book. The guy's written for the Huffington Post and some other blogs, but that's a completely different world than stories about werewolves. Although that the book was clunky and crowded with characters, it would actually make a great movie. Think Snatch but with werewolves. There are lots of characters bouncing around, each with their own quirks and agendas.
To date, Barlow hasn't written another book. I don't think that I will seek out another novel by him though. If Sharp Teeth is turned into a movie, though, I will check it out.
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