Friday, 31 January 2014
Breece D'J Pancake
I cannot recommend this brief and breathtaking collection highly enough. Breece D'J Pancake's life was short and tragic - (this collection comes with a brilliant foreword by James Alan McPherson and afterword by John Casey) he killed himself when he was 26 and, although some of his stories were published in The Atlantic magazine, his work was only compiled into a published collection posthumously. Most of his stories are set in West Virginia where he grew up. It is very difficult to believe he was only in his twenties - the stories resonate with a timeless knowledge, of humanness, failing and the kind of obsession with heritage you rarely see in younger writers' work. He also grasps the land and the people working it, the landscape, the pastimes and existence of those in his stories with such a perceptive eye, it is as if he has drunk it in, held it, then poured it perfectly onto the page. It looks effortless but it isn't. This deceit, I believe, is what makes the best writers - where it reads like an image you are seeing with your own eyes and the writer sort of disappears. It is bloody hard to do, although its seamlessness makes it look easy. IMO, this is how David Constantine writes. This is how Hilary Mantel and Kevin Barry write.
Now, immediately after reading, my favourite stories are 'The Salvation of Me', for its classical story structure, 'First Day of Winter', because he does an awful lot in a very short space of time, and 'The Mark' because it is especially dark and challenging. But I wonder if after a month or so, if I go back and take another look, other stories will resonate with me, for the time served with them brewing. Pancake switches between character perspectives all the time; sometimes mid paragraph, occasionally mid sentence. This would normally get my goat - lift me out of the story, into edit mode. But not with him. When you have a grasp like Pancake's, then you can really do whatever the hell you want.