BOOK REVIEW / Ferocious old boars and reservoir gods: Dogs of God - Pinckney Benedict: Secker & Warburg, pounds 9.95

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. 'You want to let the tourniquet a little bit loose every few minutes or so,' the co-pilot advises. 'Otherwise you cut off the flow of blood, and you lose the leg after a while.' 'But not too loose,' the pilot cautions. 'Or you'll bleed to death. Better to lose the leg than to bleed to death.' The co-pilot ends up 'tightening and loosening the tourniquet on a schedule of his own devising'. A deranged argument distracts everybody and, unnoticed, the guy dies anyway.

The whole novel unfolds in this atmosphere of vivid, violent bewilderment. The mind is always lagging fractionally behind senses which have already lurched and latched on to the next downpour of hurt. Certain things happen to snag in the mind but there's no telling whether, from a narrative point of view, a given detail is important or not. This combination of slack-jawed hazard and omen-laden, constantly erring precision generates the defining imaginative rhythm of Benedict's writing.

It's a rhythm that is stronger than the book's structure, though I'm not sure whether it is strong enough to survive its catastrophic denouement. Benedict is a very funny writer, but Dogs of God has a lot more to it than a version of T Coraghessan's feelgood, dope-growing novel, Budding Prospects, writ ghastly.

Tannhauser is a Kurtz-like figure, whose methods are 'indefensible': he burnt - literally - the hippies who were farming dope at El Dorado before him. Benedict's peculiar vision tends towards the fabular. But what kind of fable is being enacted in these gory goings-on?

Eventually it's not just the characters but the novel's effectiveness that is consumed by its animating destructiveness. Everybody gets blown away by everybody else.

Or not quite: everybody is blown away by Pinckney. He just wipes them out. This isn't to argue for some kind of moral Darwinism whereby certain characters survive by virtue of their worthiness. Certain stories in The Wrecking Yard were abruptly, violently guillotined like this. But scaled-up, in a novel, the essential banality of this strategy is revealed. If a larger point about the human condition is intended, then it's an obvious one: life's a bitch and then you die.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Britain's Got Talent judges: Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon and David Walliams

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral