“Bring Out the Dog” is the title of Mackin’s 11-story collection. Random House is the publisher.
Mackin’s book debut follows the preview of three of those stories in The New Yorker. The full collection has received high praise, including from George Saunders, winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for “Lincoln in the Bardo.”
This is what Saunders said in a blurb about Mackin’s prose: “Endlessly inventive, hallucinogenic, witty, compassionate and terrifying, overflowing with the beauties and horrors of the world.”
Saunders is spot on. Most of Mackin’s gritty, crisply written, cinematic stories come out of his experiences in wartime Afghanistan and Iraq, where he had five deployments with Navy SEAL teams. A few stories are set stateside.
His stories’ threads can jump from one scene, one set of characters, to another.
A firefight with the Taliban. Then a bizarre payback to an Afghan schoolteacher’s knuckle-rapping of a team’s now middle-aged interpreter.
Fording a river in full gear and zeroing in on one SEAL’s fear of water. Then zoom to south New Jersey for the narrator’s memory of a high school football team’s playoff victory. The word “miracle” links the storylines.
The memorial service for a team’s beloved Belgian Malinois, who had sniffed out “booby traps, machine gun nests, and false walls.” Then short profiles of the old chaplain and the new chaplain and how they advise in dealing with loss.
During some deployments, Mackin privately took notes. “Whenever I had time by myself in a dark room. … A couple of times I used a grease pencil (on the inside of his arm) when things were really busy and I had no time to write or if we were moving and I didn’t want to stop and turn on a light.”
He transcribed the jottings to a journal.
To serve transparency, Mackin and Saunders have a connection that goes back to 1998. Mackin took leave from the Navy to attend a two-week Saunders-led writing seminar. They became friends and have stayed in touch.
“I send him (drafts of) stories. He sends back notes. Completely on his own,” Mackin said, acknowledging that Saunders had a ghostlike hand in “Bring Out the Dog.”
The stories have an unfinished quality, as if the author were whispering to readers, “Stay tuned.” Indeed, Mackin said he already has ideas for what may be a novel.
“I feel lucky to be able to write. It’s almost an affliction,” he said, chuckling.
A native of Ocean City, N.J., he attended the University of Colorado, where he took writing classes.
Mackin retired from the Navy after almost 24 years. His last assignment began in 2011, teaching ROTC students at the University of New Mexico.
Some months later, he began work on the story collection in earnest.
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