Books by Pinckney Benedict

DOGS OF GOD by Pinckney Benedict
Released: Jan. 6, 1994

The first novel by storywriter Benedict (Town Smokes, 1987; The Wrecking Yard, 1992) barely resembles his measured and lyrical short fiction. Benedict owes more here to action movies than to any literary source: the levels of violence and the plot improbabilities have the same nihilistic drive of a Peckinpah film. In Benedict's West Virginia, the smell of death pervades the air, and wild dogs and boars rule the uninhabited forest. Government land, long abandoned, now serves the local druglords, who import South American laborers to harvest their best cash crop: marijuana. Into this corrupt mountain community stumbles Goody, a good but troubled barefisted boxer who once killed a man in a dirty match. Goody's sleazy old landlord sets up a match with the henchman of the biggest drug czar, Tannhauser, himself a homicidal lunatic with bizarre theories about interplanetary travel. Meanwhile, Tannhauser is having all sorts of problems in his bizarre backwoods empire. Two mysterious gunrunners have arrived with a huge arms shipment only to discover that Tannhauser's latest crop failed. A DEA agent has alerted the police that they're on to Tannhauser's dealings. And the cops, in turn, are thoroughly corrupt, so they plan to take no prisoners in their raid on Tannhauser's encampment—a bloodbath no one survives. Except Goody, who made the mistake of winning his match and was brought to Tannhauser's in order to be tortured to death. Instead, during the surreal conflagration, Goody falls into a sinkhole and begins his final passage through the legendary West Virginian caves. And this wild journey serves as his literal and figural salvation. Too many of Benedict's oddball secondary characters are drawn too broadly—and disappear with a stroke. Which is particularly annoying in a novel that nevertheless manages to suck you into its wild intrigue. Read full book review >
THE WRECKING YARD by Pinckney Benedict
Released: Jan. 1, 1992

Benedict's first collection of stories since his auspicious if uneven debut (Town Smokes, 1987) is a far more accomplished work, establishing him among the best young southern writers—full of passion and mature enough to keep it under control. Benedict searches out the moral dimension in the hardscrabble lives of rednecks and country people, and transcends the folksy bromides they espouse. He discerns the confusion and ambiguities in their seemingly uncomplicated lives. In ``Rescuing Moon,'' the narrator retrieves a dying friend from a nursing home, only to realize he doesn't know what to do with him next. The title story, about some decent guys who salvage car wrecks, hints at the conflict in their lives between doing their vulture-like job and empathizing with the tragedies they witness. In ``Bounty,'' a fellow from the country comes to town hoping to collect a reward for the truckload of dead dogs he's shot, even though they seem to be domestic animals and not wild predators. Almost as funny and bizarre (though equally believable) is ``Horton's Ape,'' the death song of a former circus baboon who lives in a cage behind a roadhouse, where he causes lots of trouble. ``Odom'' is a pitch- perfect tale of ``crazy backward ridge-running mountain rats''—a dirt-poor father and son who are clearing a homestead with bootleg dynamite. Benedict's stories about male-female relations transcend the clichÇs of hard-luck romance. The flawless ``Getting Over Arnette'' records the sorrow and redemption of a good old boy who bemoans the loss of his fiery girlfriend, who returns after his barroom beating. The weird and gothic radio play, ``The Electric Girl,'' concerns love, a murder of passion, retribution, and sideshow freaks. Similarly, the historical ``Washman,'' a long Shirley Jacksonish tale of fate and violence, explores the mysteries of abstract beauty and ugliness. The author's mystical sensibility shows itself plainly in the bedtime story ``The Panther,'' a backwoods Ovidian narrative. Benedict's range is expansive, his vision focused, and his voice true. Read full book review >