A Pushcart Prize–winner offers a searing indictment of the coal industry in this memorable debut novel.
A native of West Virginia, Pancake used interviews and real events to shape the fictional story of Lace, Jimmy Make and their four children. Lace first met Jimmy when he was 15 and she was old enough to know better, a college freshman at home for the weekend. The two begin messing around and soon Lace is pregnant, drops out of college and moves back home to the kind of life she thought she had escaped. When her daughter Bant is born, Lace rediscovers the mountain and feels a belonging to the land of her ancestors. Four years later, Lace and Jimmy marry and have son Dane, and then Corey and finally little Tommy. They fall into poverty, mainly due to the new kind of strip mining now used in West Virginia. Well-paid union miners are gone and instead scab laborers work at what’s called mountaintop removal—an environmentally devastating method of coal extraction that leaves the landscape utterly barren and the people who live there in danger of both flooding and chemical poisoning. Lace becomes involved in a grassroots movement to save the area from further damage, but nobody wants to listen to poor folk from the hills, and so the family teeters on the verge of destruction. Lace works at Dairy Queen, Jimmy watches TV all day and 15-year-old Bant has a job painting the scab boarding house (where she begins a flirtation with a worker). Dane, meanwhile, lives in terror that the next flood (nothing to do with us, says the coal company) will kill them all, while Corey and Tommy live in the smaller world of childhood that can be just as treacherous as the hollowed-out mountain looming above their house. Pancake, incorporating the cadence of the region, beautifully balances the tragedy of this family in decline with the inevitable destruction of their homeland.
The best kind of reportage fiction: evocative and meaningful.