Pinckney Benedict’s Dogs of God Cont.
Warning: Plot Spoiler.
First, give credit where credit is due: Benedict can write a hell of a fight scene. The boxing match and the shootout at El Dorado are fantastic — it’s just too bad they don’t materialize until the last quarter of the book. Before that there’s so much (unnecessary) buildup. I don’t care about Dwight; he doesn’t need to be a POV character. I don’t care about the anchorite; he doesn’t need to be a POV character. I don’t care about Carmichael; he doesn’t need to be a POV character. I do care about Peanut, but only to pity and despise him; why is he even in the novel? Perhaps the book is a bit too egalitarian in its approach to character (they don’t all need their own chapters), which spreads it out too thin, and every time we start to get into a story, we have to switch gears and go all the way back to the beginning of someone else’s story. In which nothing happens.
At the end, though, say the last quarter of the book or so, the different story lines begin to congeal, and the conflict builds as the disparate characters come into contact with each other. Then the magic happens, and Benedict’s skill as a writer comes out beautifully. He does a masterful job of handling the different points of view to elucidate a single event for us, so the raid spreads out in a lovely panorama. I can get behind the criticism I mentioned previously about the contrived method of tying up all the loose ends. Oh, how everyone dies so conveniently. But contrived or not, it’s totally kick-ass when Tannhauser blows a hole through Faktor’s chest with the rocket launcher, just as a hidden deputy snipes off the top of Tannhauser’s skull with a rifle. Yippee-ki-yay.
A few unanswered questions: Why are the anchorite, the pilot, and the copilot the only characters who are never given names? What’s with the crystal that Bodo tucks into his pocket? What the heck’s up with the title? It seems Dogs of God were the Dominican advisors to the royal court during the Spanish Inquisition — and there’s a nod of the head in the novel when the pilot reveals his father was training to become a Dominican monk. Of course the anchorite is supposed to have some religious significance, but he’s barely there as a character, he adds no weight to the story. There’s clearly some subtext going on here I haven’t picked up on; if I can bear to slog through the first half of the book again, it certainly bears re-reading to let it all sink in.
Benedict has done a lot better work since Dogs of God, but that’s to be expected since the novel came out in 1994, which is, like, the Stone Age or something. If you want to read Benedict in his prime, pick up a copy of Press53‘s Surreal South and read his magnificent story “Pig Helmet.” I’d say the best is yet to come.