What Big Teeth
FSG (February 2, 2021)
Reviewed by Ray Palen
One of the few good things to come out of the pandemic was a wealth of new fiction releases that includes many debut novels that really have made an impression. One of the best debuts of 2021 is from non-binary author Rose Szabo. WHAT BIG TEETH explores not just the werewolf myth but also the family dynamic that occurs within the world of these creatures and directly threatens our protagonist, young Eleanor Zarrin, who has been estranged from her family for years.
The title of the novel comes directly from the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale, but this novel is no children’s story. When Eleanor is forced to flee her boarding school after a big incident she was involved with, she heads to the only other place she knows: her family’s house in the woods. When she gets to the village, she is met by the local pastor, who was asked by Eleanor’s grandmother to escort her to the house. The entire extended family is there in a manner of turmoil, and Eleanor will soon play a big part in the tumultuous events that are to come.
Eleanor arrives during a hunt, where members of her family are roaming the woods around the home in search of prey to devour. She immediately bonds with her sister and best friend, Luma, who is happy to see her but does not think it is a good idea for Eleanor to stay. When her brother Rhys later holds up a bag of bloodied dead rabbits that he caught for the family dinner, Eleanor is suddenly overwhelmed and abruptly faints. Afterwards, as she is settling in and reconnecting with her family, her grandfather Miklos is alarmed by the fact that Eleanor still cannot turn into a wolf.
She confesses to her grandmother Persephone the bad thing she did while at boarding school, and it demonstrates to the family that Eleanor is not so different from them after all. Eleanor’s grandmother then proceeds to groom her for eventually taking her place—a job whose primary responsibility is keeping the rest of the family from killing humans. Grandma admits she is ill and dying, and urges Eleanor to not let any outsiders in their home when she is gone. When the inevitable happens, Eleanor finds herself in the middle of a family that is split. Things will become clearer when her other grandmother, arriving shortly from France, emerges on the scene to set everything straight.
With WHAT BIG TEETH, Rose Szabo does a masterful job of making the reader feel so comfortable with the characters and drama she has created that you easily forget you are reading about mythical creatures and instead become immersed in a family drama that is full of the resentment and secrets that most families harbor. A striking and memorable debut