The myth of the werewolf, the man who by curse or design transforms himself by the light of the full moon into a wolf or into some sort of man-wolf beast and then roams the countryside killing and feasting upon the tender flesh of unsuspecting villagers, has long been a well-loved and well-trodden motif. From the ancient Greek story of Lycaon, who fed human flesh to Zeus and was summarily transformed into a wolf by the angry god, to the 1940's Lon Chaney portrayal in The Wolf Man, we've long loved this terrifying folktale. Werewolf fiction is as alive and well today as it ever has been, but no recent author has so quickly and uniquely lifted the genre from its limited fan base to the center of popular attention as Toby Barlow has done with Sharp Teeth.
Sharp Teeth takes the werewolf myth to new heights. It poses the question, "if there were werewolves - not just a single werewolf or even sporadic instances of lycanthropy, but lots and lots of werewolves - what would they do?" According to Barlow, they would form packs like wild dogs, except they wouldn't be dogs - they'd be men. Sometimes, they'd be intelligent, powerful men like, for instance, lawyers. Such an individual would become the alpha dog of a werewolf pack, would grow the pack's strength, bind it together, and give it purpose. What sort of purpose? Well, the same as any pack of wild dogs, or men for that matter - power.
Sharp Teeth is a gang story, but it's also a love story and a detective story in which werewolves clean the city of meth labs and enter bridge tournaments. Yes there is humor in Sharp Teeth - the sort of anthropomorphic humor popularized in the cartoons of Gary Larson, except much much darker. And there are tongue-in-cheek references to to children's books like Go Dog Go.
Sharp Teeth is truly a pleasure to read. I had no idea how I would approach reading a novel in free verse, but the answer is pretty much like any other novel, except different. Free verse is verse without meter or rhyme, so it's not at all like reading poetry, though the novel is very poetic:
The last thing he sees are her eyes.
The last thing he feels is the heat of her breath on his neck.
The only thing he hears
is the might of the surging blackness
as it softly growls