One of the great books we read this summer was the sole collection of short stories by Breece D’J Pancake. These are stories of broken families and dreams in West Virginia set sometime in the Fifties or Sixties. The characters are subtly drawn and seem distracted in a very contemporary way. And the writing style is pared right back, drawing comparisons with Hemingway. In Trilobites we look at what happens when you realise your youth has all but trickled away in your early twenties.
“I lean back, try to forget these fields and flanking hills. A long time before me or these tools, the Teays flowed here. I can almost feel the cold waters and the tickling the trilobites make when they crawl. All the water from the old mountains flowed west. But the land lifted. I have only the bottoms and stone animals I collect. I blink and breathe. My father is a khaki cloud in the canebrakes, and Ginny is no more to me than the bitter smell in the blackberry briers up on the ridge.” Trilobites
Later, there are all sorts of dark compromises to be had in the lonely corners of existence with homeless teens, angry miners, and folks on the point of giving up. Sound too depressing? Pancake is spot on in describing being neither in the present or focused enough on where you want to get to. We’re reminded of the feeling of listening to My Bloody Valentine, or watching Gus Van Sant’s Elephant or Last Days. It’s a feeling articulated in so much of the music we love at Bowlegs.
Pancake committed suicide in 1980 before any of these twelve stories were collected together. A handful were published in The Atlantic magazine during his lifetime. It’s incredible to us that we’ve only just discovered him, since it already feels like we’ve known him our whole life.