Sunday, November 29, 2009

Book Review: "Sharp Teeth" by Toby Barlow

Los Angeles has always disturbed me. All that sunshine. Those über-toned bodies. Packs of werewolves roaming the canyons and arroyos. It's enough to make any catlover nervous.

In this awesome, exuberant, first book Toby Barlow strips away the city's thin veneer of civilization and lays bare its raw, violent, lycanthropic underbelly. It's the cross-species love story between dogcatcher Anthony and his damaged werewolf lover, which unfolds against a backdrop of drugs, murder, revenge, and the battle for pack dominance. It's noir, funny, riveting, tender, completely over the top, and by rights it shouldn't work at all. But it does - it's completely addictive and unexpectedly moving.

Part of its power is a consequence of Barlow's choice to write it in free verse. The resulting rhythm give the whole story a driving momentum that keeps the reader riveted -- I read the whole book in two sittings. The plot, which seemed inextricably complicated at the halfway mark, is resolved neatly by the end, though I do feel that I need to give the book a second reading to figure out the various strands.

The sheer momentum built up by Barlow's writing works against a careful reading, so I anticipate that a second reading will bring further rewards. Depending on how my second reading goes, I may yet have to give this most excellent book a fifth star.

If you have time for only one lycanthropic love story this year, then look no farther than "Sharp Teeth". Toby Barlow can be proud of this totally impressive debut.

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