Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

I'll say first that I applaud HarperCollins for being willing to publish a novel-in-verse about werewolves. But I did find myself wishing it was a better novel-in-verse; or either a better novel or a better verse. Anne Carson I think pulls off both good novel, good verse in Autobiography of Red, and maybe I was unfairly comparing this n-in-v to hers. Carson is truly a literary writer, but what Barlow has written is more of a thriller. So who am I to say that just because it has line breaks that it has to be literary. Except, I couldn't help but feel that as a novel without line breaks it wouldn't have made it. The book depends too much on its conceit to be really original.

But I enjoyed it in moments (good line about how maybe all relationships start with a version of stalking), and it prompted some thinking on a subject I find pretty interesting--animal characters. I read an interview with a children's illustrator recently in which she mentioned that when you draw animals instead of children you can have them do things like push each other out of trees and it's cute. But one child pushing another out of a tree would be creepy at best, psychotic at worst. And similarly Barlow can have his werewolves commit vicious executions and gruesome acts of cannibalism while they are dogs, and then have them change back into people. And they are more sympathetic than if they had committed the killings while in their human form. But all the same...I couldn't most of the time tell the werewolves apart (check out how well Carson does character development in Red) and so ended up tuning out and then dropping out all together.


Toby Barlow said...

Ann Carson is a better writer, this is true. Along with James Ellroy’s White Jazz, her Autobiography of Red was a great inspiration for Sharp Teeth.

But judging whether Sharp Teeth would have succeeded as a novel had it been written as a novel is a little like wondering if Moby Dick would have succeeded as a musical comedy if Melville had written it as a musical comedy (who knows, maybe!)

Appreciate your comments and, rest assured, we will work harder next time.

Ayse Papatya Bucak said...

TB--your right, that's a fair critique of my critique; you didn't write a novel. And it's a remark that neglects the book's intentions--something in workshop that I probably wouldn't have let my students get away with. But my compliments for writing something so original, and even though it didn't end up being exactly for me, I've been really pleased to see how much press it's received given how unusual it is.