Twelve debut stories, all partly perfect and partly contrived, about Appalachian folk trapped between a cruel mood of nature and an intrusive brand of civilization.
Here are all the calamities that can afflict the mountainfolk: ghosts, floods, droughts, fires, car accidents, bulldozers. Amid the mayhem, people try to find their place: in “Jolo,” a girl thrills at her relationship with a burn victim; in “Redneck Boys,” a woman remembers when she still had the option of running away. Pancake informs us in “Dirt” that West Virginia lost more men in Vietnam per capita than any other state; if her vision of Appalachia is accurate, then the backcountry has the highest concentration of poets as well. There’s plenty of luster from these people in the form of florid prose, but it’s not always clear that “luster” is what would best describe them. It’s a world where the land is like a body, and the bodies are like the land, and everyone has dirt for blood. But it rings false when lyricism is assigned to that which is simply utilitarian for these folk. The sense that this is forgotten country is best seen in “Bait,” in which residents mark time by counting off local highway fatalities. It’s the quieter moments that impress: a woman’s realization that the last part of her lover’s body she will see naked is the crown of his head (“Redneck Boys”), the observation that what has been Joby Knob for locals (“Crow Season”) becomes Misty Mountain Estates when the developers arrive to steal away the author’s Appalachia.
One part Faulkner, one part McCarthy, but the recipe here isn’t complete. The parts that are Pancake are strongest, and the perfections linger.