Book Thoughts: Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

Working in a public library as I do, I’m often reminded of how much has already been written. Occasionally I look around at the shelves full of books and think “It’s all been done already. We can all stop writing now.”  But I’m happy to report I’m consistently proved wrong.

For instance: Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow. A werewolf novel written entirely in verse. Epic verse isn’t new, of course. And werewolf novels are everywhere right now. But a combination of the two? I couldn’t not read it, figuring it couldn’t be mediocre; it had to be completely terrible or really, really good.

I count the book a success on all counts. It works as a novel, with engaging characters and an intriguing plot. There’s love and life and death and power plays and vengeance, and confused characters muddling through life caught up in it all. And it works as poetry, the choice of words and meter striking the place in you where poetry strikes, and still keeping the story flowing.  Example: “At night he lies down on the benches and contemplates/ the deception of starlight, long dead suns making small lights/ almost bright enough to guide the way.”

Barlow gets the balance right, sacrificing neither the fiction nor the poetry aspect in the cause of the other.

Is it obvious how much I liked this book? It’s so nice to come across something fresh, a reminder that we humans are endlessly creative. And it’s nice to see a writer following his own vision and making it work. I’m thinking of all of those writing conferences where authors are asking what editors are looking for at the moment, and nobody ever answers “Werewolf poetry.”

I have one warning for the squeamish. Though not gratuitous because it does serve the story, some of the violence is quite graphic.