Earlier today I needed something to read as I stretched out on the sofa with two pillows under my weary head and prepared to listen to the Pitt men’s basketball game on the radio. I didn’t have my usual stack of books from the library. I won’t be able to check out anymore books from the library until I pay a late fee of $5.00.
So, I went to my tiny personal library and pulled out the paperback book, The Stories Of Breece D’J Pancake. He was an excellent writer. He died in his twenties from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
I discovered Pancake years ago as I worked on my MFA (2003-2006) at Pitt. This is what Wikipedia has to say about him.
Pancake published six short stories in his lifetime, mostly in The Atlantic. These stories and six more that had not been published at the time of his death were collected in The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake (1983). The volume was reprinted in 2002 with a new afterword by Andre Dubus III. His vivid, compact style has been compared to that of Ernest Hemingway. Most of his stories are set in rural West Virginia and revolve around characters and naturalistic settings, often adapted from his own past. His stories received acclaim from readers and critics. The Atlantic’s editor recalled receiving letters that “drifted in for months – asking for more stories – inquiring for collected stories, or simply expressing admiration and gratitude … in 30-something years at The Atlantic, I cannot recall a response to a new author like the response to this one.”
Among the writers who claim Pancake as a strong influence are Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club and Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog. After Pancake’s death, author Kurt Vonnegut wrote in a letter to John Casey, “I give you my word of honor that he is merely the best writer, the most sincere writer I’ve ever read. What I suspect is that it hurt too much, was no fun at all to be that good. You and I will never know.”
The song River Town was inspired by Pancake’s “A Room Forever” from Dire Straits‘ frontman Mark Knopfler‘s 2015 studio album Tracker, the story of a tugboat mate spending New Year’s Eve in an eight-dollar-a-night hotel room where he drinks cheap whiskey out of the bottle and eventually ends up with a teen-aged prostitute.
I highly recommend his only book. Now back to the game.
Hail to Pitt!