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Thursday, October 18, 2012

"The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake", on desolation row

The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake (Trilobites, Spanish translation) Breece D'J Pancake

"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."
Kurt Vonnegut on Breece D'J Pancake

You read words like these from a wonderful author like Vonnegut (among several others, all acclaiming the completely unknown writer) and you cannot escape from curiosity, so you put the name on the "search list", and, eventually, you get your hands over its work. In the case of Pancake, his only book, as he took his life when he was just 26. Only 12 short fiction stories, six previously published.

His stories are unusual. The environment, that hostile West Virginia (where he lived) is scary and desolated. And the characters involved in their tales are people who might not feel miserable, but look like it for reader. Life is a trap, and doesn't seem to be much hope out there either, so it's not really worth the trying.  And the ones who try, like the "former young punk" Colly in the title story "Trilobites" return as "I was so damned mad". And the third recurrent element in Pancake's stories is violence. Guns are everywhere, and even when there are no physical acts, the threat of violence is ever-present. 

But these three factors alone couldn't make me qualify this book as unusual. What strikes me the most, for the good and the bad, is the tone of this collection. Pancake's prose is oblique, sometimes odd, even dreamy, and almost always painful. It's hard to put in words, but the author is capable of creating a mood and making you feel uncomfortable while he describe these mundane and sad lives, without really giving us much information or concrete detail. A couple of stories are even hard to specify what are really about, but the sense of damage and reading about damaged people is notorious. Depression and frustration are the words that comes to my mind. And seeing how Pancake took his life, it's puzzling. Frightening.

Being honest, I couldn't say I enjoyed reading "Trilobites" a lot. To me it was about sensations and not really about stories. But I wouldn't dare to criticise this book either, as I admit that in terms of impact, this book keeps going in my mind. Very peculiar and captivating stuff. Read it with care.

SCORE: 6/10

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