Laura Leaney's Reviews > The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake

The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake by Breece D'J Pancake
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's review
Jul 10, 11

really liked it
Read from June 28 to July 10, 2011

This may be the most startling collection of stories I've read in quite a while; and how is it that I got through college without ever having heard of Breece D'J Pancake?

The stories all take place in the rural backwoods of West Virginia, but the depth of the stories, despite the narrow setting, is vividly rich. The male protagonists are all young men, caught by the confines of rough traditions and strange, ugly parents - like mothers who "would not bathe" and fathers and older men who grate on the nerves. I like this exchange at breakfast between Hollis and his mother in "First Day of Winter":

"Cer'als hot." His mother giggled, and the crescent of her mouth made a weak grin. "Your daddy's burnt his mouth."
"I ain't hungry." Hollis poured his coffee, leaned against the sink.
"The old man turned his head a little toward Hollis, bits of meal stuck to his lips. "You going hunting like I asked?"
Hollis sat his cup in the sink. "Thought I'd work on the car. We can't be with no way to town all winter because you like squirrel meat."

This particular piece of dialogue is pretty clear - but in many of the stories the dialogue and the internal thoughts of the protagonist blend together in such a way that (despite my confusion) interiority feels external, almost a part of the landscape. This is hard to explain, but the result is mythic......epic in scope. In the first story, my favorite, called "Trilobites," a young man named Colly hooks up with an old girlfriend Ginny who is visiting from college. While Colly's life is heavy with the past - his dead father, an ailing mother and farm, and memories of what he wrote in Ginny's yearbook before she "up and left him" - Ginny has moved on. After essentially rutting her in an abandoned building, she takes off, but the dialogue continues as Colly talks to his dead father while Ginny's "taillights are reddish blurs in the fog." The writing is powerful and begins with the father speaking as Colly is slumped on a bench:

"Ever notice how only blue lightning bugs come out after a rain? Green ones almost never do."
I hear the train coming. She is highballing all right. No stiffs in that blind baggage.
"Well, you know the Teays must have been a big river. Just stand on Company Hill, and look across the bottoms. You'll see."
My skin is heavy with her noise. Her light cuts a wide slice in the fog. No stiff in his right mind could try this one on the fly. She's hell-bent for election.

The remarkable thing about all these stories is how the past and the darkly beautiful Appalachian landscape are such powerful entrapping forces in the present consciousness of the main characters. All seem aware of the trap and accept their condition with a strange nobility.

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Reading Progress

07/01/2011 page 80
42.0% "Strangely powerful writing."

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