'Sharp Teeth' Gives Werewolves an Epic Treatment

Toby Barlow

Toby Barlow's debut novel, Sharp Teeth, is a tale of werewolves — written in free verse. Courtesy of HarperCollins hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of HarperCollins

In Toby Barlow's debut novel, Sharp Teeth, competing packs of werewolves have plans to take over Los Angeles. But if Barlow's book reads less like science fiction and more like a heroic epic poem, that's because it's written in free verse.

Barlow describes the book as "a ripping yarn with the extra words ripped away ... a graphic novel without the pictures, or a hard boiled novel that's been boiled down to a reduction sauce."

Barlow is executive creative director at an advertising agency in Detroit and a contributor to the literary magazine n+1 and The Huffington Post. An excerpt from Sharp Teeth follows.

Note: There is language in this excerpt some readers may find offensive.

Excerpt: 'Sharp Teeth' by Toby Barlow

Chapter One

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.

Here.

LA

East LA

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.

"nope, sorry"

"job was taken already, good luck"

"you got experience?"

"leave a message"

"forgettaboutit"

"you sound Mexican, ola, you Mexican?"

"call back Monday"

"mmmn, I don't know nothing about that"

"no"

"no"

"no"

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?"

Dogcatcher.

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

for Anthony.

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 the dog, 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

wander loose

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?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Mmmn," he nods. "You won't."

The "animal control" logo makes Anthony wonder.

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.

Sharp Teeth. Copyright © by Toby Barlow. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

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