FICTION

Twilight of the Dogs

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Reviewed by Elizabeth Hand
Sunday, April 20, 2008

SHARP TEETH

By Toby Barlow

Harper. 308 pp. $22.95

Vampires have been the ascendant pop monster ever since Anne Rice's 1976 bestseller Interview with the Vampire. Werewolves have always been the underdog, despite high-profile lycanthropes in the Harry Potter books and Stephenie Meyer's popular Twilight series for young adults.

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. Much will be made of the book's form -- it's told in free verse -- but that seems like a gimmick here. Give or take a few punctuation marks, Sharp Teeth could just as easily have been written in prose, though that would have resulted in a far slimmer volume. There's an amusing shout-out to "Beowulf" in its opening lines ("Let's sing about the man there/at the breakfast table"), but otherwise Sharp Teeth roams predictably, if enjoyably, within the well-trodden dog park of Los Angeles noir.

Anthony, a down-on-his-luck dogcatcher, is a figure familiar to any reader of hardboiled fiction, the loner who parks himself at the kind of bar where you know it's just a matter of time before The Girl walks in:

It's the same bar, the first one, the dark one,

Anthony is sitting there sore as hell

he wrestled a Saint Bernard today . . .

"Is this seat taken?" she asks.

There she is. Dark hair. Cautious blue eyes.

Great.


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