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Reviewed by:
  • Sea Dogs
  • Steve Yarbrough
Sea Dogs by John BenskoGraywolf, 2004, 224 pp., $15 (paper)

The poet John Bensko's first collection of stories, Sea Dogs, comes as an altogether delightful surprise, displaying the breadth, depth and variety that are sorely lacking in short-story collections these days, when it often seems as if entire books of short fiction were constructed with an eye toward making things easy on the folks in the publisher's marketing department. The stories in Sea Dogs are geographically varied, with settings that range from a decrepit airport in St. Croix to the dirt roads of rural Mexico to the overgrown hills of north Mississippi and, finally, to the back streets of Manhattan. As the title implies, a number of the stories have coastal settings, allowing Bensko to exhibit a convincing familiarity with old salts like Gregory, the seafaring assailant in the title story, and Prentiss, the lascivious fishing-boat guide who is outsmarted by a mysterious blind fisherman in "Tequila Worms."

Bensko's characters come from many different age groups and from vastly dissimilar backgrounds; one of the great pleasures of reading his collection is the insight it offers into the ins and outs of such rarely noticed pursuits as oyster processing or the rescue of terrified tourists from the twisted staircase inside the Statue of Liberty. Perhaps most impressively, Bensko is that rare male writer who is drawn toward women as point-of-view characters and is capable of letting them breathe. Six of the thirteen stories, including one of the most memorable, the moving tale "Summer Girls," are filtered through feminine perspectives, and when the conflict between men and women hangs in the balance, the author often tilts away from his own gender, as Raymond Carver did in such stories as "Why Don't You Dance?"

This is a collection filled with small moments that dramatically expand the lives of the characters, and the epiphanies are served up in lucid prose. A fine poet, the author proves himself a first-rate fiction writer as
well. Sea Dogs is a thoroughly impressive debut.



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