SUCH SHARP TEETH by Rachel Harrison (BOOK REVIEW)
What do you do when your twin sister is pregnant, alone and calls you for help? For Rory Morris, she immediately drops her successful life in Manhattan to move back to her hometown and give her sister, Scarlett, the support she desperately needs. Yet moving back, even temporarily, is not easy as there are painful memories there, memories she has worked hard to leave behind. One night after driving home from a bar Rory, preoccupied with thoughts of an old friend she met, Ian, who had a childhood crush on her and is clearly not over it, accidentally hits some sort of animal with her car. Fearing she’s injured a dog or a deer she goes into the woods to check if it’s still alive. Then suddenly she’s attacked and mauled by something her eyes cannot believe—only, she doesn’t die. Rory wakes to find strangely her injuries are not as bad as she remembers, her wounds are miraculously almost healed. Yet during the weeks after the attack her body begins to change, she’s unnaturally strong, the touch of silver on her skin burns, she feels a deep hunger, she feels a deep rage. What was the beast that attacked her? What is she becoming?
“My eyes close, and it’s here. The transcendent knowledge that nothing can touch me. That I’m not in danger, because I am danger.”
Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison brings a classic monster tale with a side of wit, romance and an unbreakable sisterly bond. This is only my second book by Harrison but her blend of cosy comforting horror is something I’m absolutely coming to love.
Once again Harrison’s use of dialogue is razor sharp and flows like natural conversation. Though the story is told through a first person narration by Rory we are shown the two sisters’ close bond immediately. Rory and Scarlett share quips with one another, they tease and insult each other in the way sisters do, they support each other with looks and gestures knowing the other person so deeply that not everything needs to be said with words. Though the sisters are twins and share many traits, one of which is never being completely honest with their feelings on serious matters, they both share differences too. Rory doesn’t like to commit or lay down roots, or get too attached, whereas Scarlett wants nothing more. Therefore seeing Rory return to her home where a string of attachments and trauma unfolded we know just how deeply she must love Scarlett to return. I haven’t read many books which centre on sibling relationships, so I loved experiencing this unconditional love the sisters had, the kind that’s expressed with their deeds rather than anything materialistic.
You would not expect a classic monster story, a werewolf one at that, to hold humour but Such Sharp Teeth does it so well. It’s not the laugh out loud kind but it’s the kind that’s dripping with sarcasm, it’s a touch noir but also works to create a more cosy atmosphere rather than a horrifying one. From the very onset Harrison presents to us a close-knit community which feels recognisable, with people who feel wholly relatable and this works to pull you into the drama of their lives as it unravels. There’s great banter between Rory and her childhood admirer Ian, as they fall back into the familiar friendship they once shared and you can tell there’s a lot of unsaid feelings bubbling away. From Rory reconnecting with her friend Ashley and her more edgy friend Mia, it’s clear she works her way through most situations with satire and aloofness. Even after the attack when she speculates what she may just be turning into and has to cope with all the changes that entails she cracks many jokes, she desperately tries to make light of a very fucked up situation and I have to say I found this so much fun to read.
“I run and run. It doesn’t matter how fast I’m going, which I know is fast, animal fast, my senses are not dulled by the speed, my pace amplifies everything. There’s no outrunning any of it.
Not my senses. Not my feelings. Not myself.
The werewolf thing only enhances all the parts of me that were already broken and wrong. It’s trapped me with the worst of myself. It’s my reckoning.”
Harrison does a fantastic job at representing different kinds of female characters with various complexities to their personalities, but are so realistically portrayed. For Scarlett, pregnancy is not a magical experience, she doesn’t feel the glow, the excitement or the million other things people keep telling her she should feel. Scarlett is full of fear and doubt, fear for the kind of mother she will be, how her life will change and no longer be about her needs, she feels grief for how her body will be changed forever. There’s also Ashley who is overwhelmed and feels guilty for wanting time to herself away from her rather hyperactive son who she clearly adores, again representing another side to motherhood which I’m sure is shared by many. These are very natural feelings that many women experience but hardly ever gets talked about and so I’m glad Harrison illustrates it here.
Then there is Rory and her mother who share a more messy and turbulent relationship. There’s a lot of darkness shared between the two, a lot of hurt that has never been openly and more importantly truthfully discussed. Through Rory Harrison explores trauma in a very truthful manner. Society will tell you that you’re either defined by trauma and it makes you the person you are today, a survivor, or you’re left broken by it and that’s somehow your fault. What of other people’s responsibility? What about those who should have kept you safe because you were too young? These are the issues Rory has had to deal with alone for many years. As much as this is a book about monsters, the literal and metaphorical kind, it’s also one about forgiveness and moving on—not necessarily just forgiving others but forgiving yourself too. I love the way Harrison juxtaposes Rory’s transformation into a werewolf and the pain her body experiences with the experience of childbirth and even the changes experienced with menopause. Women are forever going through challenges and each one causes us to evolve and that’s not easy by far but at the end of it we can learn to be comfortable with who we are, to embrace our inner strength.
Such Sharp Teeth is the perfect blend of horror and heart, of transformation and reconciliation. It’s a fun little horror novel but with a poignant reflection on the female experience.
“There are things beyond our control.
My body is beyond my control.
This is the truth. The truth of me.
What if I can’t control myself in this form because this is what
I really am? What if this is what I really want?
Power and violence and freedom and oblivion.
I let my eyes roll back and the monster win.”
ARC provided by Kabriya at Titan Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the copy!
Such Sharp Teeth is out now. Order your copy on Bookshop.org