Sharp Teeth

May 16, 2008 at 2:41 pm 2 comments

“We are wolves,” Cutter chants
in his mind.
“We don’t find the weak. We
don’t prey on the slow.
We simply eat absolutely
fucking everything.”

I first heard about this book in Mother Jones, where they interviewed the author, Toby Barlow. After hearing what it was about (werewolves in L.A.) and desperate for a good book during my last week here, I ran out to the library and tracked down a copy. So excited that I found it, I settled back in my nest chair, opened to the first page….and let out a cry of dismay.

Poetry. The whole thing is an epic free verse poem. Now, I hate poetry with a passion. I think that most post-modern poetry is pretentious, narcissistic and cliched. But this book sounded so good, and it was shelved with the novels (rather than poetry or, God forbid, sci-fi) so I decided to give it a go.

And it was amazing. Eight pages in I already couldn’t put it down. This book grabbed me and held me and wouldn’t let me go until I finished all 308 pages of lyrical wonderfulness.

The language is excellent — this free verse isn’t Walt Whitman-style, with huge long sentences that don’t give your brain a chance to keep up. Barlow writes in snippets, almost, little snapshots of information that really are perfect for grabbing and keeping one’s attention. Even I, with my tendency to unconsciously speed-read, didn’t skim for at least the first 250 pages (a miraculous feat, really). To give you an idea of the length of the lines, I actually had to count to make sure it wasn’t blank verse.

The poetry also gives Barlow a chance to be more flowery than he would be able to in a novel of this sort. If he had written in prose, it might have been a good book, an okay book — but it would have simultaneously have been overwrought and underemotional. There would have been too many unnecessary words and we would have been following around a pack of dead-inside dog/humans who have little to no beauty in their world.

But the poetry allows Barlow to dwell on how wonderful it is to be with someone and feel safe, the joy of living the life of a surfer in Santa Cruz, and how beautiful the moon is. And all without being too sappy, because it’s tempered by the depictions of how utterly violent these characters are. The second one of Barlow’s characters pulls out a chain saw, all soppiness is pretty much gone.

The characters are amazing, too, and coupled with a twisted plot that comes together almost seamlessly (though it suffers a little, I think, because of the form of the novel itself), this makes for one seriously impressive debut novel. Rumor has it that the film rights have been bought and screenwriters are working on it now — though Barlow told Mother Jones that he doesn’t think it will work, I think it’s at least worth a shot.


Entry filed under: Contemporary Fiction.

A Reader’s Guide to a Wacky Post-Modernist Novel Coming Soon to a Blog Near You

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