Last November, this blog featured short story author Breece D'J Pancake. Pancake was a South Charleston native and Marshall alumnus whose life and potential was cut way too short by suicide in 1979 when he was only 26. Posthumously nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Pancake was revered by writers such as Andre Dubus III and Chuck Palahniuk. His writing style was compared to the likes of Ernest Hemingway.
Of no relation, another writer by the same memorable surname has risen to literary success from the Mountain State. Having grown up in Romney and Summersville, West Virginia, Ann Pancake's fiction tells first-person tales of life in rural Appalachia. In 2001, Pancake published a collection of short stories entitled Given Ground, but it was 2007's novel Strange as this Weather Has Been that shows her skill to create sincere characters, and to define places.
According to Pancake's website, "Strange As This Weather Has Been features a West Virginian town in the midst of the latest coal boom, and plagued by the mountaintop removal strip mining that is ruining what is left of their mountain life. As the mine turns the mountains to dust and wastewater, workers struggle with layoffs and children find adventure in the blasted moonscape craters. And down below, the hollow’s inhabitants live with the constant threat of a black flood that could wash out their world without notice."
With ease, Pancake writes about the struggles of poverty and the divided interests between rural and urban Americans. The language and voices of her characters are authentic and their personalities and lives are unique but familiar. Like another Pancake almost three decades prior, Ann Pancake writes words that not only strike a chord with those from the hills, but prove just as effective and interesting with those unfamiliar with life in Appalachia.
*Please, check your local independent bookstore before buying online.