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Moody may not have trod down the rutted paths of southern violence so much as ambled, quite easüy enough, down broad American walkways. A Room Forever The Life, Work, and Letters ofBreece D'J Pancake By Thomas E. Douglass University ofTennessee Press, 1998 280 pp. Cloth, $32 Reviewed by Ruol Foster, who is professor emeritus ofAmerican Literature at the University ofWest Virginia and coauthor of William Faulkner: A CriticalAppraisalina other books and articles. The West Virginian writer Breece Pancake once penned this odd sentence: "I see myselfscattered, every ceU mues from the other." It was a prophetic sentence. On PaHn Sunday 1979, during an otherwise tranquü Aprü night, Pancake ended his Ufe with a shotgun blast. He left behind twelve intense, brilHant short stories that were pubUshed posthumously and which created an immediate audience. Outside of the United States, editions of his work have appeared in England and BrazU. Like "that brilHant boy" Thomas Chatterton, Pancake's Ufe was cut offjust as fortune turned in his favor. The fame denied him in Hfe surfaced after his death, and many critics credit him with the current Appalachian renaissance in writing. Thomas E. Douglass, the author ofthis first book-length study ofPancake, has very effectively introduced Pancake to a wider audience. Part I of the book consists ofan astutely presented biography and critical assessment. Part II, "Selected Letters and Fragments," presents material that has never before been accessible to the general reader. AU of this is very helpful in clarifying the workings ofPancake 's mind and imagination. Furthermore, it gives us fresh insights into the stiU enigmatic suicide of the talented young writer. AU who have an interest in this brilHant lad wiU be grateful to Douglass for this study. Douglass presents the fundamental themes of Pancake's Ufe and work: loneHness , absence oflove, and a desire for redemption. Loneliness is at the core ofaU ofPancake's work. Like Thomas Wolfe, he was "God's lonely man," and tiiis obsessive isolation appears in aU of his stories but especiaUy in "A Room Forever." In that story, a young riverboat mate sleeps with a runaway girl of fifteen. Both think deadi is preferable to their loveless Uves, and the girl slashes her wrists but is saved by the young man's intervention. But by the story's end, loneliness con98 Reviews quers aU. Pancake once said that tiiis story "represents Huck Finn without die raft to escape to." Many ofPancake's characters are aUenated from the world in which they find themselves; the protagonists don't connect and the world is out ofjoint. This feeling of aUenation matches the somberness of Pancake's fictional world. Douglass places great importance on Pancake's riveting style. Style, as he points out, is the equivalent verbal form of the writer's deepest dioughts and memories. Pancake seemed to be trying to exorcise some secret psychic trauma through his writing, and it is clear that the ruins ofthe broken world portrayed in his fiction come from the broken world of his interior Ufe. The diction, moreover , is dense, terse, and laconic, every sentence mimetic and potent. As in die writings ofErnest Hemingway and Stephen Crane, the intensity ofthe style is the thing: every sentence is designed to shock the reader awake. AU of Pancake's stories have a dreamlike quaHty—they don't explain themselves and they are never unequivocal; readers must make their own interpretations . His canvas is Uttered with the old—broken down autos, the detritus of an industrial age—aU symbols of bHght and steriUty. These things also represent a crippled and broken Pegasus, who would bear the characters away from the dead Httle towns if it could only fly. The frustrated protagonists, as in "The First Day ofWinter," can only escape into the imagination. One cannot consider Pancake's work without probing his tragic death. Douglass points out diat, in hindsight, diere were many indications ofPancake's suicidal longings. Pancake Hved at "One Blue Ridge Lane"; to one correspondent he signed his address "One Blow Out Your Brain." For weeks before his deadi he gave away many of his possessions, including aU of his guns, except his Savage over-under shotgun, which...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 98-100
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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