“he knows that it’s impossible to tell a wolf
from a man if
he keeps his chin up
and his teeth clean.”-Sharp Teeth
What drew me to this book? Was it the short and snappy title? The stark cover? Is it simply impossible for me to want to read anything but horror this summer?
No matter the reason, I found myself picking up a copy of Sharp Teeth and was subsequently sucked into an alternative reality of Los Angeles: a place spread out over the desert where wild dogs fight for power, money, and love. Written in free verse, it reads like an epic poem; a classic tale of a hero on a journey fighting an enemy and winning the love of a fair lady.
In short, the novel centers around Anthony, a dog catcher who falls in love with an unnamed werewolf who just left her pack. Their romance buds in the midst of a gritty and apocalyptic LA, where werewolves slip between their human and dog forms as their competition builds up to an inevitable war. The plot is reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, or West Side Story. There’s impending chaos, but the beauty of the story is how love endures within the storm.
The most striking thing about the book is the metaphor of what the werewolves symbolize. It’s not just a story about werewolves engaged in gang wars, but how we all have a little dog inside us; a wildness that we can learn to control, but not always.
Most of the time, the werewolves can turn into humans or into a dog whenever they wish. When they are about to fight or kill, most often they revert to their wild side and become a dog. However, they prefer to make love in human form. The process of the characters changing into dogs represents their resignation to their basic, barbaric side. As dogs, they can fight and kill with no remorse. As humans, they are held to the same societal norms as everyone else.
Lark, a former alpha werewolf from one of the packs, is the character that stands apart because for him, turning into a dog is an escape from human responsibilities. As a dog, he prefers to enjoy the freedom and simplicity that comes with being an animal by being with his “owner.”
Supporting the romance, action, and metaphor of this book is how the book is structured. The free verse strategy makes you slow down and savor the words. Otherwise, with the intense action the reader would easily slide through the story without taking time to appreciate some beautiful anecdotes. I’ll end this review with one such example:
“Everyone is always looking in the wrong direction,
we worry about our lovers while losing our jobs
we stress out about cancer while our children run away
we ponder the stars while burning the earth.
Lark used to say the bullet we’re running from
is almost never the one that hits us.”