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Strange as This Weather Has Been

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  1,098 ratings  ·  217 reviews
Set in present day West Virginia, Ann Pancake’s debut novel, Strange As This Weather Has Been, tells the story of a coal mining family— a couple and their four children— living through the latest mining boom and dealing with the mountaintop removal and strip mining that is ruining what is left of their mountain life. As the mine turns the mountains to slag and wastewater, ...more
Paperback, 357 pages
Published September 28th 2007 by Counterpoint (first published September 10th 2007)
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Average rating 3.83  · 
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 ·  1,098 ratings  ·  217 reviews

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Drew Lackovic
Jan 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Ann Pancake's first novel is one that is equally rich in the tactile detail of West Virginia's hollows as it is in its language. Pancake's style is dense, wet, and earthy, somehow evoking a sense of place and landscape through word choice, rhythm, and diction as well as classical imagery. The novel, teetering on a knife-edge between political activism and literary fiction does an excellent job of conveying its message against mountain top removal without dragging the reader into a pit of blind a ...more
Nov 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Environmentalists, literary readers
I read this book to try to capture MY own feelings and emotions of memories in the West Virginia Mountains. And I think Ann Pancake and I have traveled some of the same winding mountain roads. From Beckley to the New River Gorge familiarity abounded. But no where so much as in the characters we follow from a typically dysfunctional family, especially Lace and Bant who seemed every bit a piece of not only myself but so many of the people I’ve known. Mountain-folk or Flatlanders.

Strange as this W
Jan 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Sing along with me: "Almost Heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River."

This book is about those "Country Roads" of West Virginia (or any other part of "Coal Country" in the Southern Appalachian Mountain Chain I would think) and where they take you......just not in the way John Denver intended when you're humming along. Certainly the beauty of the places in that tune are on display in this book, as you follow salt of the earth "Mountain Mommas" through the woods, digging
Jun 28, 2016 added it
I'm not sure I can give this book a star rating.

See, I grew up with people like Bant, and Lace, and Jimmy Make. And this book is about every reason they are what they are and will never change, and it drives me around the flipping bend. We get the schools suck and the companies are horrible and no one gives a crap about West Virginia. We get it.

Except, people don't.

They see the place and the people as dumb hickdom. They don't understand how generational poverty works, or how it feels for a sing
Oct 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: appalachian-lit
I feel I should begin this review by saying that I am a native of West Virginia, of southern West Virginia, to be exact. Living in southern West Virginia basically means being a resident of the coalfields, and this book is about exactly that.

Lace is a character I could feel a strong connection to, a powerful voice that resonated with me and made me want to know her life's story. Pancake captures perfectly this image of how life in the region can be. Not to say that all of us in West Virginia ar
Aug 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
This novel gave me a powerful understanding of growing up poor in the mountains of West Virginia. It concerns a community that is being dominated by a large company tearing apart the surrounding mountains while strip mining for coal. In a story that has become almost too familiar today, residents must choose between leaving, working for the company, or standing up to them in an effort to protect the environment. The author uses such an abundance of metaphors and colorful expressions that the boo ...more
Andrew Sydlik
Feb 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those who like character-driven novels, place-oriented novels, rural WV & mountaintop removal
Recommended to Andrew by: Miles Dinnen
Shelves: literary-novels
This is one of the best novels I've ever read. Very developed and interesting characters, a setting that comes alive in sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feels, and a sense of tension that permeates the novel. While not plot-oriented, the action is important, and while I didn't necessarily find myself needing to know what happened next, I wanted to find out what was going on with the characters next.

The characters are the strongest part of this book. They all have strong voices, even the minor
Feb 02, 2014 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. The writing is absolutely amazing. Pancake's descriptions are so vivid and poetic that I found myself marking things on almost every page, sometimes every paragraph. The book also gives a face to the environmental tragedy going on in Appalachia today caused by mountaintop removal coal mining. The characters ring true and their plight is all too real.

Many people in Appalachia who live near mountaintop removal sites (some of my family include
Grace Tenkay
Mar 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Powerful Appalachian fiction. Really illuminates the lives of a fictional hill country family as they deal with economic hard times, and the destruction of the environment from coal mining.
She uses an interesting narrative style where the chapters feature different members of the family as narrators.
Heather Knight
Mar 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
Ann Pancake's story of a young girl in West Virginia coal country who gets pregnant, drops out of college and ends up in a life that, from the outside, might look like a failure. I say from the outside because the girl, Lace, has such a relationship with nature — stronger, it seems, than with her husband or children or any person — that her return to "her land" and her fight to stay there in the face of strip mining and the death of one of her boys almost feels like a victory.

As someone from tha
Becki Iverson
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book has been on my to-read list for years. I don't remember how it came to me but I am so glad it did. I've never read something centered in West Virginia and that particularly centers the stories of miners, and I learned a lot from this book. Not having grown up in that world it is so easy to point fingers and wonder: why the coal addiction? Can't the people living there see how damaging it is? That they're paying the price?

The short answer to that is no, they can't - because it's much m
Incredibly good. Difficult, at first, like a Faulkner book, but you get the sense of most of the characters by about halfway in. Pancake writes well in the epic psychological scale of people directly confronting just what mountaintop removal means.
Cherie Palmer
Nov 07, 2019 rated it liked it
3.8 actually. First the coal companies destroyed their land; then it destroyed their souls!
Ashleigh Meyer
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I cannot wait to read this book again. Ann Pancake manages to paint a beautiful picture of the stunning, unstoppable, tragic landscape that is Appalachia (more specifically the coal regions of West Virginia) without relying on stereotypes and conventions. She spins the tale of one complex, headstrong family living through the degradation and destruction of the home that they simultaneously love and hate. It is so much more than a coming-of-age tale for every character involved. It showcases the ...more
Apr 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
A successful protest novel for me (Pancake got me looking up resistance groups working against mountain-top removal); a lot of yearning in this book; I could feel it consistently; felt the homesickness running through it; had to play Townes Van Zandt on repeat after finishing. As a West Virginian, I was grateful for the painful accounts Pancake includes (re-imagined from interviews) about the Buffalo Creek mining disaster, in the 70s, I think. I never realized the extent of the horror and, thoug ...more
Jun 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those who don't know
Shelves: enviro-justice, place
There are things it takes to really understand something that is big and hard. For me it is political analysis, experience, and novels. I've read the background on mountain top removal mining and coal in general, and I'm learning some West Virginia history. I've spent a month now in the thick of it, doing the political work, getting heavy in the lungs in time with the power plant schedules, listening to people tell about their sludge-contaminated water as I sit in their homes, quietly nauseated ...more
Maol Mhuire O'Duinnin
Mar 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Man, I don't know about this how many stars out of five system...I know the author and i don't feel comfortable rating this book.

Suffice it to say, it blew me out of the water! It is a really intense book, emotionally and otherwise, and a great story to boot. It is crystal clear that Ann knows her characters extremely well, which lends them credibility and unique voices. I truly appreciate this book and find myself wanting to refer to it for examples of character voice during my own process of w
May 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Between this novel and Ron Rash's Serena, I've learned a lot--a heartbreaking lot--about Appalachia. In Pancake's novel, the link between environmental and soul devastations becomes clear. It's a novel about generations living in a hollow in West Virginia, and the loss of land and in some ways, the connection to their land. It's told through multiple narrators, and while the technique is important in terms of thinking about who stays and who goes, I found it difficult to read some of the narrati ...more
Jul 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: With the exception of children, I can't think of anyone I wouldn't recommend this book to.
Shelves: 2008
Ann Pancake tells the story of life in southern West Virginia using her own experiences, the experiences of the people she interviewed, and real events and locations. They all come together to make the novel feel genuine and personal.

Coal has always been a huge part of the characters' lives, and it's been good and bad. Mostly bad. Very bad. The floods, the poverty, devastation, unemployment, and illnesses are all facts of life. Coal is not just a job. Reading "Strange As This Weather Has Been" g
James Aura
Mar 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is an absorbing and important novel because it tells the story of an Appalachian family in deep-to-the-bone human terms rather than as caricatures. The reader eventually realizes the other characters in the story are the mountains, which are slowly being destroyed by mining companies. And as the mountains are destroyed, so are water supplies, animal habitat and a way of life for the people unfortunate enough to live there. The author gave a powerful voice to the main character, a young moth ...more
Virginia Baker
Oct 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, commentary
Ann Pancake's debut novel is incredibly honest and true. It is an in-depth look into the life of Appalachia, the awful, gut wrenching coal mining practices that go on there and the poor population that has to live with a constant threat of environmental disaster due to these practices. Though this is a fictional story with fictional characters, it reads like truth. And it is the truth. This is the story of so many Americans who's voices are squashed.

The writing itself is very strong. Each chapt
Feb 24, 2008 rated it liked it
A quietly passionate novel dealing with coal field depredations of southern West Virginia, especially mountain top removal.

For those whom the mountains are part of their blood, their destruction kills not only the hills but also people's souls. Yet, without coal, there is no way of making a living. The pain of the dichotomy is a constant theme.

The book is good, and I'd give it a qualified recommendation. My major frustration is following the changing point of view. Although the chapters are cle
Aug 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
By reading this novel, I just spent the last week deep in a West Virginia mining community. The writing really brought me to a different place --- though this was not breezy escapism by any means. The story centers on a family that is struggling against the loss of their land,their livelihood, and their identity to mountaintop removal mining. It is truly tragic.

My only critique is that I wish there was a bit more emphasis on plot. This was a long, character-driven book, and in parts I began to w
Feb 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Admittedly, I read very few novels, but Strange As This Weather Has Been is remarkable on all levels: the language is lush and inventive as it characterizes the place and people, the plot is woven artfully and rhythmically so that the ending is both painful and inevitable, the themes are approached from every angle without feeling forced or contrived, and these characters! It feels like they go on living these fully-drawn lives. I finished it and wanted to start again but promised the book to s ...more
Sep 04, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club, 2012
This was a hard book to read! First, the sadness of what families in the coal-mining mountains of West Virginia have to endure, is just plain depressing. Secondly, reading the back-woods dialect was hard to understand. Half the time I was reading, I was thinking to myself...what the heck is this about? The beauty of reading, is forming the picture in your mind, a vision of what the author is describing. I couldn't grasp that in this book. Witnessing what started as "hot wet" between Lace and Jim ...more
Apr 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful and tragic book set in Southern WV, written by a native. I grew up in a WV hollow, and this is the first book I've ever read that really captures what our hills mean to us and how different life there is, for good and for bad. Particularly after the recent Montcoal disaster, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about the history of coal mining and the mountaintop removal controversy.
Nov 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book is fantastic... the first I've read in a long while that is hard to put down. She does a beautiful job capturing what the hills and hollows of WVa come to mean to those who live there and what it means to have that landscape destroyed by mountain top removal. The ending was less than perfect - though I'm not sure what other ending could have worked. Everyone should read this book...
May 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book is important if you have ever lived in Appalachia, known anyone that has, or want to know about "clean coal". Pancake brings this book to the public forum with characters, stories, and culture that all beautifully reflect that part of America.
Liz Shine
Apr 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Both real and artful. Both particular and universal. This book sat on my shelf for four years. Had I known, I wold have read it immediately after taking it home. Thank goodness books have such a long shelf life.

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Ann Pancake is an American fiction writer and essayist. She has published short stories and essays describing the people and atmosphere of Appalachia, often from the first-person perspective of those living there. While fictional, her short stories contribute to an understanding of poverty in the 20th century, as well as the historical roots of American and rural poverty. She graduated summa cum l ...more

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