I had never heard of Pinckney Benedict when I ran across this at a Goodwill clearing house, but the cover, title and blurb on the back sounded interesting enough to give it a try. Somehow (probably from the cover photo of the edition I bought) I picked up the idea that this would be similar to collections such as Knockemstiff or Crimes in Southern Indiana, or the writing of Daniel Woodrell. Although the blurbs make much of the setting of the story, DOGS OF GOD seems to have little in common with the 'Rough South' style of those others, other than superficialities.
In the end, it's probably better for it, though works by Frank Bill and Donald Ray Pollock do have their charms. No--Mr. Benedict probably owes more to Cormac McCarthy than to the fairly recent upsurge of literature about poor whites on the outer fringes of society--Cormac McCarthy and a completely humorless Carl Hiaasen. I say that, but I don't know if it does any good to compare one author to another--my point really is that it wasn't what I expected, and to alert other potential readers of what they might be getting into.
Exactly what THAT is, is a little complicated--DOGS OF GOD has a very intricate plot, and it would be a shame to spoil it in a review. Suffice to say that Goody, a young bare-knuckle boxer, somewhat aimless and adrift, is carried forward by events that will see him penetrate a kind of Appalachian heart of darkness. Exactly what the takeaway from all that is, I'm still not sure...Goody's final pronouncement on the nature of the Earth comes after a frankly baffling interlude that just seems bizarre, given the exaggerated yet essentially realistic setting of the story prior. That the ending is likely a hallucination still leaves the problem of how it all fits together.
And yet, to this reader at least, it does somehow seem to mesh, even if there is a resistance to concrete interpretation. DOGS OF GOD seems like an uneasy balance between traditional storytelling and something that attempts to reach a deeper level. That it is only partially successful (or successful, but too difficult to penetrate for this reader) at delivering on the latter half of that goal does not make it a failure; I like Mr. Benedict's style--his is a lyrical, muscular type of writing that, even if it strikes a false note occasionally, can still act like a punch in the nose. The difference between this and other 'punchy' writers is that I feel the goal of the others is only to throw the punch--Mr. Benedict is looking to exploit the opportunities that open up after the punch has landed.
Definitely worth looking into if you enjoy a rougher, rawer brand of storytelling, yet appreciate it when that style is used while attempting to reach below the surface.