The Phoenix Network:
About  |  Advertise
Books  |  Dance  |  Museum And Gallery  |  Theater

Water Dogs

Lewis Robinson's first novel picks up where Officer Friendly left off
By ALEX IRVINE  |  January 28, 2009

Lewis Robinson's first novel, Water Dogs, which landed on bookstore shelves last week, is more of the closely observed, ever-so-slightly weird, elliptically exact storytelling you'd expect from the writer of the acclaimed 2003 collection Officer Friendly (HarperCollins). A sort-of mystery novel that may or may not involve a crime, Water Dogs is also the story of a family broken by the death of its patriarch, "Coach," whose three children (fail to) cope with his death in highly individualized and complicated ways.

Bennie, our quasi-slacker protagonist, falls into a quarry during a paintball game, and Ray Labrecque, one of the players on the other team, goes missing while being pursued by Bennie's brother Littlefield. The two men also happen to be romantic rivals, which means that Ray's disappearance attracts the attention of the police. Bennie's twin sister Gwen comes home from her struggles in the New York theater, and the two of them — with Bennie's maybe-girlfriend Helen — try to figure out what happened to Ray, and whether Littlefield had anything to do with it.

Water Dogs began life as a novel "that failed, basically," after 150 pages, Robinson says. Health issues intervened as well, as after months of serious illness Robinson underwent major bowel surgery. As he recovered, he began to look at what he had written, and he realized that its adolescent characters weren't resonating with him anymore now that he'd suffered medical difficulties and found himself, as he puts it, "a little older."

 His solution? Age them about 10 years and start over. And the result became Water Dogs, which skirts the expectations of both the crime novel and the traditional isn't-it-hard-to-live-in-Maine story that so many Pine Tree State writers return to again and again. "I'm sensitive to those kinds of clichûs," Robinson says. "The guy who's stuck in a town and can't get out." Littlefield and his two siblings did get out, for a while, and all three of them came back, which places them in a strange cross-grained relationship with the rest of their hometown's population. Water Dogs also moves like a crime novel, with Bennie investigating and uncovering tantalizing hints about the events of the night he fell into the quarry, but in the end it's not interested in the crime (if there was one). It's interested in what happens to the characters who, like the reader, know part but not all of what happened. How do they react? And how will they react once they know that they might never know the whole story?

"I wanted to tell the story at one remove," Robinson says, adding that an earlier draft was in Bennie's first-person voice. Moving it to the third person pushes the reader just far enough away to see how Bennie's armor of aloofness colors his perceptions and actions. In earlier drafts, too, Bennie's brother Littlefield was a more peripheral character, but as Robinson went through painstaking revisions, Littlefield and his anguish became more central, even as Martha — the inamorata of both Ray and Littlefield who Robinson professes is his favorite character in the book — moved into a smaller role.

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Four questions for a hypertext pioneer, Further adventures in literary obsession and authenticity with Brock Clarke, Interview: Oliver Sacks, on The Mind's Eye, More more >
  Topics: Books , Media, Books, Books,  More more >
| More
Add Comment
HTML Prohibited

 Friends' Activity   Popular   Most Viewed 
[ 08/12 ]   "Eric Larivee's Summer Cocktail"  @ Ryles
[ 08/12 ]   Guster + Jack's Mannequin + Ra Ra Riot  @ Bank of America Pavilion
[ 08/12 ]   Waiting For Godot  @ Fenix Theatre Company
Share this entry with Delicious
    In its short history, the brand-new Ocean Gateway terminal hasn't seen anything like the hundreds of comic-book creators, collectors, and fans (900 strong, nearly half of them age 12 or under) who attended the inaugural Maine Comics Arts Festival on Sunday.
    Now in its third year, the Maine Festival of the Book is settling into a new home on the USM campus
  •   CENSORSHIP FOR ME, PENELOPE  |  March 04, 2009
    Lisa Jahn-Clough's young-adult novel Me, Penelope is the subject of a recent dispute at Tavares Middle School in Orlando, Florida.
  •   MAINE CREATORS AT THE NEW YORK COMIC-CON  |  February 11, 2009
    If you've never attended a large comics convention, it's difficult to get a sense of the enormity and nonstop sensory onslaught.
  •   MATCHING UP WRITERS AND AGENTS  |  February 11, 2009
    At the Eastland Park Hotel on February 2, a dozen literary agents and publishers from Maine, Boston, and New York heard pitches from 75 aspiring writers on topics ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to the history of the steamship.

 See all articles by: ALEX IRVINE

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed