A lonely, contrary, often difficult man, Breece D’J Pancake was one of in and just reissued by Vintage as Trilobites and Other Stories). “Trilobites” by Breece D’J Pancake. saturday-shorts Saturday Shorts Week Welcome to our weekend series for Every Saturday this. Breece D’J Pancake was an American short story writer. Pancake was a native of West Virginia. Atlantic Monthly misprinted his middle initials (D.J., for Dexter John) in the byline of Trilobites, a short story the magazine published in

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O n 8 Aprila year-old man from West Virginia shot himself. Had he chosen to live a trilobjtes months more, he would eventually have seen his first book posthumously published in and just reissued by Vintage as Trilobites and Other Stories draw copious praise from major writers and critics across the US. Today, his admirers include figures as various as Margaret Atwood, Kevin Powers and the singer Lorde, who has tweeted quotes dd his work.

Breece Dexter John Pancake was born and brought up in Cabell County, West Virginia, in trillbites heart c the neglected and misunderstood region that forms the rich, dark and often bitter backdrop to most of his 12 pancaek stories, a landscape that is as vivid and unforgettable as Hemingway’s Michigan, or Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha. A restless spirit, Pancake studied for a short time at West Virginia Wesleyan College before moving to Marshall University; then, still undecided as to his future, he worked for two trilobiets at a military academy before finally entering the masters writing programme at the University of Virginia.

Here, he was awkward and lonely; as a lower-class West Virginian he was treated with disdain by his more moneyed white peers, and with suspicion by the few black students he encountered. Nevertheless, it was here that he began to write seriously, creating, perhaps because of his isolation, a powerful and compassionate vision of the people and land he knew best.

It is writing of great generosity and real courage; but, as Dubus also notes, “there’s more going on here as well; pacnake some of the other writers I’d been reading at the time I could feel a slightly judgmental quality in the prose, as if the characters in the stories were not pqncake much real people as they were props being used to make wise, sardonic points about the human condition.

With Pancake, there is none of this. Pancake’s first published story, “Trilobites”, appeared in the Atlantic magazine in By any standards it is a masterpiece; that it is an artistic debut is astonishing. On the surface, it deals with rural change and isolation: Over the course of one day, we see Colly hunting out a turtle to eat, arguing with his mother about the farm pancakd two haunted, all the while, by the lost father and husband who, for reasons not made entirely clear, cannot be fully and properly mourned and then, as the day moves on, setting out to go low-riding with Ginny, an old girlfriend who is on a visit home from the college — and the new life — she has found in Florida.


Trilobtes years earlier, Colly had written in the girl’s yearbook, “We will live on mangoes and love”; now the grownup Ginny’s mind is elsewhere and, though she is happy to have sex with him and generally pass the time, she neither shares, nor understands, Colly’s love:.

I can’t wait to get back. He’s doing plankton research.

Breece Pancake: ‘Something ancient in my soul’ | Books | The Guardian

Restrained, alert, with touches of melancholic humour, “Trilobites” is a masterclass in the observation of character: At the story’s climax, Colly’s bitterness overcomes him, as he and Ginny have sex in a ruined depot building:.

I slide her to the floor. Her scent rises to me, and I shove crates c to make room. She isn’t making love, she’s grilobites laid. All right, I think, all right. I pull her pants around her ankles, rut her.

I trilobktes of Tinker’s sister. Tinker’s sister is under me. A wash of blue light passes over me. Her head is rolling in splinters of paint and glass. I look a long time at the hollow shadows hiding her eyes. She is somebody I met a long time ttrilobites.

I listen to the mud daubers building nests, and trace a finger along her throat. It is a desolate and terrible moment — and that final gesture, the finger that is also a metaphorical blade, reminds us that we are in southern Appalachia, with its tradition of love and murder ballads.

Colly will lose his farm, of course, as will so many of Pancake’s characters, one way or another. More often than not, these stories are about the dispossessed, but it is clear that this is never a matter of mere property; most of these farms and smallholdings are dusty and unworkable, their monetary value next to nothing, yet the blood history and generations of baffled love they contain is beyond price to their inhabitants.

Indeed, this sense of history and baffled love are Pancake trademarks; in the words of John Casey, who knew the young writer and was instrumental in encouraging him to send his work to the Atlantic: Almost all his stories are set in the part of West Virginia that he came from, and he knew that from top to bottom.

He knew people’s jobs, from the tools they used to how they felt about them. He knew the geology, the prehistory, and the history of his territory, not as a pastime but as such a deep part of himself that he couldn’t help dreaming of it.

One trilobited the virtues of his writing is the powerful, careful gearing of the physical to the felt.

Most of all, Pancake knew the bitterness and romantic longing of the wounded, fearful and superfluous man. In spite of the immense difference in location, social class and tone, the melancholy of his stories is one that Chekhov would have recognised immediately and, certainly, the comparison with the Joyce of Dubliners is a fair one.


No doubt, it was something he knew because he lived it, but a legion of other men have lived similarly painful and frustrated lives and have not been able to articulate the hurt — or the occasional fleeting beauty — of their condition. He was alone, knew the power in singularity, yet was afraid of it. Insecurity crawfished through his blood, leaving him powerless again. That sense of powerlessness haunts these rural tales, as does the feeling that, for much of the time, the best of these characters are only half awake, almost sleepwalking through the public parts of the day in order to preserve some stray wisp of spiritedness or ordinary love.

Breece Pancake: ‘Something ancient in my soul’

Often, they plan to get away, but it is trilobitez the hard-won sense of identity and the curse of belonging to a specific place that mercilessly defines them. As he says of himself in a letter to his breeece, Pancake’s characters know that “there’s something ancient and deeply rooted in my soul. I like to think that I have left my ghost up on one of those hollows, and I’ll never really be able to leave for good until I find it. And I don’t want to look for it, because I might find it bbreece have to leave.

To say that Breece D’J Pancake is not well enough known is a massive understatement. Maybe it’s the odd name: Yet, as overlooked as he has been, and in spite of his limited output, he is arguably one of the four or five best short story writers of the last 50 years. The oeuvre we have consists of just 12 stories written probably in the space of five or so years; trulobites he might have gone on to achieve hardly bears thinking about, the pandake is so tragic.

Pancake had serious problems with alcohol, and he was a lonely, contrary, often difficult man; yet he was also, quite simply, a literary genius and, as inevitable as it may be to mourn what he seems so casually to have thrown away, it would be a grave mistake to let speculation distract us from the extraordinary work he did leave behind. Two years earlier, Colly had written in the girl’s yearbook, “We will live on mangoes and love”; now the grownup Ginny’s mind is elsewhere and, though she is happy to have sex with him and generally pass the time, she neither shares, nor understands, Colly’s love: At the story’s climax, Colly’s bitterness overcomes him, as ppancake and Ginny have sex in a ruined depot building: Topics Short stories Rereading.

“Trilobites” by Breece D’J Pancake | Thommy Ford Reads

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