Book Review

By Dyer, Geoff | The Independent (London, England), July 9, 1994 | Go to article overview
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Book Review

Dyer, Geoff, The Independent (London, England)

READERS of The Wrecking Yard, Pinckney Benedict's collection of stories, will know what to expect from his first novel, Dogs of God: the rural south, broken-up trucks, backwoods visionaries, and enough injuries sustained to the characters to rival any other dogs, even reservoir ones.

There are a lot of characters in Dogs of God, pretty crazy, most of them, all moving towards the biggest whacko of them all: Tannhauser, the 12-fingered cult-leader who is masterminding a feudal marijuana-growing operation at a place called El Dorado. Two arms dealers have flown in a shipment of weapons to turn Tannhauser's compound into a fortress. An anchorite monk shows up, wailing. The bad-ass sheriff and his deputies are preparing a raid. A local farmer proposes a bareknuckle contest between Tannhauser's bodyguard and a tenant of his, Goody, who rents the house haunted by the murdered woman whose head was split open with a hammer some years back. Goody is sceptical about the ghost, but it was he who sniffed out the corpse in the cornfield next to his place.

He also had the misfortune to roll his car after he'd accidentally creamed a pack of the wild dogs that roam the countryside hereabouts. Out at the compound, meanwhile, they're finding more medieval ways to maim themselves, by chasing wild boars, for instance.

In terms of their capacity for moral discrimination there is little to choose between the people and the animals that rampage through these pages. Both are defined wholly by the physical violence dished out by or to them. We get so used to the characters flinching and reeling from the pain of some assault that entering the mind of a boar does not require the slightest adjustment of narrative psychology: "The boar's head buzzed with pain: the pain of its torn tusk, its torn ear, its damaged hip."

If, in Benedict's world, to be human is to be in pain, then the boar is as human as the next man. No wonder that a character known throughout simply as "the pilot" is full of astonished admiration for the ferocity of the hogs: "If those things got organized in any kind of significant numbers they could rule the world."

Another guy, meanwhile, has had his leg slashed by the boar and has bound up the wound.

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