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
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
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.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss