Sunday, January 15, 2017

Review: "The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake"

The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake act not only as a slim collection of short stories but also as a biography of a writer whose life ended long before he could realize his true potential. Lauded by writers such as Joyce Carol Oates, Kurt Vonnegut and Chuck Palahniuk, Pancake, a native of West Virginia, only published a handful of short stories in his lifetime, mostly with The Atlantic and all of which are collected here, before killing himself in 1979 at the age of 26. The sadness behind his death, and which imbued his life (as you will tell from the introduction and two afterwords) shine through in somber, dreamlike stories of his native state, some of which overstay their welcome after 10 or so pages but a few, especially the shorter ones, cling to the readers mind long after reading them, helped by delicate prose and breathtaking metaphor. I won’t get into all of the stories here, but I will talk about a few that I liked and a few that I did not like so much. The first story in this collection, titles “Trilobites” reminded me a lot of the work of Donald Ray Pollock, especially the title story of his first collection Knockemstiff. In both, we meet a narrator who has recently lost both the love of his life and hope for the future, and the narrator here meets said realization with profound clarity. Pancake is not a flashy writer, he lies somewhere between Hemingway and Carver, and sometimes comes off as a knock off of one or the other, like in the story “In the Dry”, but his shorter works, most notably “Time and Again” a loose metaphor for one man’s meeting with death, you can hear faint echoes of something that never came to fruition. These are stories that rub shoulders with greatness, as evidence by Andre Dubus III’s somewhat gushing afterword, and they are worth your time to seek out.

Rating: 4/5

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