By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Though noble in their way, all the werewolves — male or female, white-collar, blue-collar or hippie — are vicious when need be, in a manner decidedly devoid of sentiment or regret. But then, so is the meth dealer, so is mild-mannered Anthony when it comes down to it, so are the forces of Homeland Security when they step in, and so, Barlow obliquely implies, is the war in Iraq, from whose pool of veterans some of the packs mine their recruits. And so, for that matter, is the city itself. Barlow's portrait of L.A. is, for the most part, wisely restrained, free of winking presumptions or sweeping generalizations, but his one sustained poetic tribute is spot-on. It comes from the book's unlikely philosopher — one Mr. Venable: a small, white-haired fellow with a "lisp like a twister," companion to the hulking, silent Goyo, who is given to rambling existential sermons and ultimately serves as the sole moral witness to the book's savage crescendo.
"This is a violent city," Venable pronounces,
and I don't mean rapes and bloodshed.
I mean the existence of every ounce of it.
This entire vast urbanity was bludgeoned from the earth,
torn and wrought,
piece by piece. A thousand bricks.
A thousand tiles.
The concrete and the steel girders
all bitten out of the soil and the rock.
Then, of course, it's brought here,
to the desert, to death itself.
For all that, however, Barlow seems to find hope in what we build with those bricks and tiles — or with the less palpable materials of love, friendship and community. One of the book's many epigraphs comes from Jean Rhys: "A room is, after all, a place where you hide from the wolves. That's all any room is." There are a lot of wolves in Sharp Teeth, but there are a lot of rooms as well, a few of which — most notably the one that shelters the love story — actually manage to withstand the final onslaught.
SHARP TEETH | By TOBY BARLOW | HarperCollins | 320 pages | $23 hardcover