"Teeth" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by Gypsy Press
Written by Kelli Owen
2018, 248 pages, Fiction
Released on August 3rd, 2018
When I first heard author Kelli Owen's announcement for her upcoming Teeth, I was intrigued. She said she had rebuilt the mythos of the vampire from the ground up for this novel and these were bloodsuckers like we've never seen before. On one hand, I had reservations. How many times have we heard this (I'm looking at you, zombie genre) only to be disappointed? On the other, this is Kelli Owen talking. Knowing what she's capable of from the (not enough) books I've read from her, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. She has this knack of making the supernatural seem almost normal. And that's what she does in Teeth.
If I'm not mistaken, my introduction to Owen's work was with the fantastic Deceiver. While horror more along the lines of Seven, the novella takes some twists and turns and after reading it I was a fan of her work. I've read a few more of her novels and novellas since, and one thing is certain, even when there is monster of some sort in the mix, Owen keeps the story grounded in reality, which in turn adds another level of fear to it. Instead of thinking, "Cool, a monster," like in Floaters, you end up thinking, "Holy shit, I can see this actually happening." Because like any great writer, Owen focuses on the people instead of the Big Bad, and once you relate to and root for the characters, she's going to exploit your caring in the best way possible.
In Teeth, the vampires aren't the antagonists we are used to. Owen keeps her promise and does make them like something we (or at the very least I) have never seen before. Instead of undead creatures of the night looking to hunt humans and drink from their necks, the vamps (or, rather, lamians, as "vampires" is an awful slur in this universe) are as alive as assumedly you and I; they just have some different DNA that makes their bodies require a alternate diet. Naturally, that diet ideally would be one of blood, but the lamians can get around this with supplements.
The book follows a variety of characters, both human and lamian, as they do their day-to-day activities. The society of Owen's universe in Teeth is almost a mirror image of the United States right now. The lamians are a minority, and there is a political divide on how to treat them. On one side, you have a group demanding they be monitored because they are dangerous, where on the other you have people saying lamians deserve equality. This is all so very familiar.
To add to the matter, there's someone killing humans and drinking their blood, adding more fear and paranoia to many in the town Teeth takes place in. Lines are drawn, fingers are pointed, assumptions are made, and people say awful, disgusting things to the vampires whose only crime is being born. Again, this is all so very familiar.
The characters in Teeth are where Owen really delivers. They are three dimensional and believable. For example, one such character is disgustingly racist towards the lamians, and normally it would be easy to write her off as ignorant trash. But Owen crafts her as someone deeply troubled, and while you do hate the woman, you also feel sorry for her on some level. The way she acts cannot be excused, but you can understand the reasoning behind it. It's not unlike Kevin Bacon's character in The Woodsman. You want him to burn alive, but at the same time you kind of feel sorry for him and you hate yourself for doing so. That's great writing.
Here's the thing with Teeth, though; while it uses the vampire angle to make a statement on today's society, it's not in your face. It's more George Romero's Dawn of the Dead than his Land of the Dead. You can see the underlying theme, but it's so true to life you just go with it. There's a divide in Owen's America as wide as the real one, and while I hope the book's underlying statement won't be as relevant in 10 or 15 years as it is now, I'm not an optimist and I think it will be.
Once again and unsurprisingly, Kelli Owen does not disappoint. She promised to give a new take on vampires and she succeeds in spades. Teeth has brutal violence, anger, tension and suspense and a bevy of well-developed characters that you will love, hate, or fear, or a combination of any of those. The only thing it needs is to be in your hands for you to enjoy.