Toby Barlow's briskly entertaining first book, Sharp Teeth, aims to put lycanthropes first in the supernatural sweepstakes, with a narrative as relentless and powerful as a pitbull's jaws…[it's] plot is tightly constructed, if nothing new: rival dog packs fighting over control of drugs, money, power. The cast of characters is similarly drawn from noir stereotypesgood cop, bad dog, really bad dog. Still, any great noir lives or dies by its stylishness, and Sharp Teeth has got that in spades. Barlow's writing begs to be read aloud by Kathleen Turner, and he has a nice way of nailing his point in a few choice words…
The Washington Post
Barlow's gut-wrenching, sexy debut, a horror thriller in verse, follows three packs of feral dogs in East L.A. These creatures are in fact werewolves, men and women who can change into canine form at will ("Dog or wolf? More like one than the other/ but neither exactly"). Lark, the top dog in one of the packs who's a lawyer in human form, has a master plan that may involve taking over the city from the regular humans. Anthony Silvo, a dogcatcher and normally a loner, finds himself falling in love with a beautiful and mysterious woman ("Standing on four legs in her fur,/ she is her own brand of beast"). A strange small man and his giant partner play tournament bridge and are deep into the drug trade. A detective, Peabody, investigates several puzzling dog-related murders. The irregular verse form with its narrative economies proves an excellent vehicle to support all these disparate threads and then tie them together in the bittersweet conclusion. 5-city author tour. (Jan.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Heather L. Montgomery
Anthony Silvo, a twenty-something dog catcher, falls in love with a mysterious woman. Unfortunately, she turns out to be a werewolf. In this gritty thriller, human werewolves can change to canine form upon choice. Congregated in houses reminiscent of frat houses, the secret packs are involved in Los Angeles's organized crime community, hiring themselves out as hit men. Three packs compete for power (and readers' attention). Unlike traditional werewolves who are at the mercy of the moon, these Lycanthropes are intentional in their killing, cunningly using their canine nature to dispose of (lick up) the evidence after a murder. The book has significant adult content, particularly graphic descriptions of sexual acts, drug use, homosexuality, and scenes full of blood. In this, his first novel, Toby Barlow masterfully uses free verse to complement his plot. Although some prosy sections seem to be randomly chopped into short lines for pacing purposes, Barlow is skillful in his use of rhythm, occasionally rhyming for emphasis. The dark, mysterious nature of the verse provides a sinister mood that increases the sense of intrigue surrounding the werewolves. Although many literary references are included in the text, the poetic nature of the novel should not scare off readers, as it is a slangy and easy read. Barlow successfully presents deeper concepts such as community, consequences, love, and loss in this sexy, intriguing epic poem. Reviewer: Heather L. Montgomery
Down and out in Los Angeles, Anthony reluctantly takes a job as a dogcatcher, though his sympathies lie more with the death-bound dogs in the pound than with his coworkers. When he falls in love with a woman he meets, apparently by accident, he becomes unwittingly drawn into her world-a dark supernatural world of werewolves-and into the lives and ambitions of the rival packs of shapeshifters who haunt the fringes of society. Pulsing with feral intensity, Barlow's debut depicts the lives of seemingly ordinary people who have crossed the boundaries between human and beast and between predator and prey. Written in a free verse style that perfectly complements the action as it moves from slower-paced narratives to short, jagged scenes of graphic violence and heartbreak, this groundbreaking work commands attention from a wide audience, including genre fans and modern fiction aficionados. A superb addition to any fantasy or modern horror collection. [See Prepub Alert, LJ10/15/07.]
School Library Journal
Adult/High School- Barlow's debut novel innovatively mixes horror, noir, and epic poetry, creating a uniquely thrilling read. Ruled by competing packs of werewolves, the seedy underside of LA is far stranger than anyone ever imagined. Lycanthropes hire themselves out as hit men and pushers, both driving and feeding off the criminal world. At the center of the story is Anthony Silvo, a self-professed loner and dogcatcher who falls in love with a mysterious woman; she leads a second life as a werewolf and works for Lark, the leader of the most dangerous werewolf pack on the streets. Her growing relationship with Anthony causes her to regret the wild choices of her past and seek out a new life. Meanwhile, Lark suspects that competing packs of lycanthropes are after his power and he prepares for a massive, citywide conflict. Other subplots include a detective's investigations into werewolf-related murders and a comic bridge tournament that might have ties to the LA drug trade. Some readers might be initially intimidated by Barlow's free-verse poetry, but, after a page, they will be swept into the rhythm. It's also to Barlow's credit that the touching moments between the woman and Anthony work as powerfully as the most graphic violence in the story. The dark humor and grim story line will immediately draw in fans of other neo-horror novels, such as Christopher Moore's You Suck: A Love Story (Morrow, 2007), but Barlow's deeper style is wholly his own.-Matthew L. Moffett, Pohick Regional Library, Burke, VA
Rival gangs of werewolves duke it out for control of Los Angeles in this dark but oddly tender free-verse novel. The werewolves of Barlow's imagined world don't adhere to traditional rules-descendents of the ancient lycanthropes, they feed on flesh and are able to change from man to dog whenever they please, regardless of the lunar cycle. Unofficially, there is room for only one woman in each pack, and she tends to link herself to the leader. Lark is the dominant dog in the beginning, until his girl (who remains unnamed) strays, and he is betrayed by Baron, a member of his pack. There are a few changes in leadership, but eventually Baron pairs with Sasha, a darkly seductive female werewolf, to form a dangerous rival gang. Lark's former girl hides out in human form with Anthony, a fully human dogcatcher. The girl is desperately worried that her new love will uncover her secret, yet she continues using her charms to seduce and murder threatening members of the werewolf community. Lark, meanwhile, seeking temporary refuge, turns himself over to the Pasadena Animal Shelter, where he is adopted as a pet by Bonnie, an insecure and lonely suburban woman. While Bonnie is at work, Lark organizes a new pack, made up of an unlikely cast of characters, including the token woman, an abused bartender named Maria. In other events, just as Lark's former girl gets ready to leave the werewolf life and flee Los Angeles with Anthony, she is attacked by Sasha, who is trying to bump her off. Though the fight ends in the girl's favor, it compromises her hopes for a simpler future. Lark is left with his own struggles, as he juggles his role as pack leader and his (unexpectedly content) life with Bonnie. Thoughthe free-verse form takes getting used to, it serves to heighten Barlow's visceral imagery. A refreshing leap across genres.
“Tremendous.... As ambitious as any literary novel, because underneath all that fur, it’s about identity, community, love, death, and all the things we want our books to be about. ”
“If Ovid had been raised on a steady diet of Marvel Comics, Roger Corman and MTV, he might’ve written something like Toby Barlow’s Sharp Teeth.”
“A sexy, dark and (well, yes) biting story told by a wizard of sleight of hand.”
“I like this book - lycanthropy indeed begins at home.”
“Forget any reservations you might have about werewolf stories or verse novels. This is great, engaging, wonderful stuff. Sondheim should make it his next musical.”
“I’m impressed. I always knew stuff like this was going on in L.A. What a cool book!”
Wall Street Journal
“Romeo and Juliet, werewolf-style.”
Read an Excerpt
Let's sing about the man there
at the breakfast table
brown skin, thin features, white T,
his olive hand making endless circles
in the classifieds
"wanted" "wanted" "wanted"
small jobs little money
but you have to start somewhere.
a quarter mile from where they pick up the mariachis
on warm summer nights
two miles from La Serenata de Garibaldi's
where the panther black cars pause on their haunches
while their blonde women eat inside
wiping the blood red
mole from their quiet lips
"wanted" "wanted" "wanted"
he circles the paper
then reaches for the phone
breathes deep, begins.
"job was taken already, good luck"
"you got experience?"
"leave a message"
"you sound Mexican, ola, you Mexican?"
"call back Monday"
"mmmn, I don't know nothing about that"
Then his barbed hook catches. A thin gold vein
is struck. Buds of hope crack through the dry white earth:
"oh sure, come on by, what's your name?"
His father was not a man but a sleepy bull
with sledgehammer hands and a soft heart.
He once brought a dog home from the pound
Sipping coffee by the phone now
that little yapping note of hope still rings in his ears.
Anthony smiles, remembering the way
the puppy sat between his father's strong legs
as they stood looking down like gods
at the cowering little creature.
They laughed. The pup relaxed,
wagged its fat tail.
His father was kind to thedog, to the kids, to his wife
until a week later when he went through the windshield
on Sepulveda. Hit so hard
it didn't matter where he landed.
And after that nothing was kind
it was every man for himself
and there were no men
just a widow, some kids
and a dog who went back to the pound,
taking his chances with no chance at all.
C'est la guerre.
Pondering his path,
Anthony wonders now,
if maybe that dog
wasn't just some real bad luck.
"Packs of thirty or forty at a time
like gauchos in their own damn ghost town.
They come from the hills, up from the arroyos.
We don't know how many, estimates vary,
but each time they come in
a few house dogs go back with them.
Anytime you got toy poodles breeding with coyotes
it's gonna get interesting."
Calley is so white, he's red
with blanched features pickled and burned.
He shows Anthony how to wrangle, how to pull hoops, slip a wire.
They sit at the firing range. "You'll be shooting tranqs,
but might as well practice with live rounds." Calley shows
bite marks on his hands, legs and arms.
His breath bites too: coffee, cigarettes, and just plain old rancid.
"I'll ride partner with you for a bit, but with all the cutbacks
they're making us all ride solo now."
"What happens if I hit a pack?"
"Hit a pack, hit the radio." Calley pauses, draws on a smoke
the red in his eyes almost matches the
blood vessels spidering across his face
It's a foggy, milky, bloodshot stare,
but it still holds a mean light.
He rasps, "You like dogs?"
"Mmmn," he nods. "You won't."
The "animal control" logo makes Anthony wonder. Sharp Teeth. Copyright © by Toby Barlow. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Animals have no control, they run, they fuck, they eat,
they kill to fuck, they kill to eat
and they sleep in the noonday sun.
Anthony's not afraid of the dogs,
he's not afraid of the work,
he just hates the other guys.
He sits apart, trying to stay clean.
Perhaps over time he will become like them
with their permanent stains and bitter dispositions.
But Christ almighty, he thinks,
I hope not.