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Breece D’J Pancake and Pinckney Benedict are for real

Tuesday, 31 July, 2012

Give Us A Kiss When people grow up with names such as Breece D’J Pancake and Pinckney Benedict, you can be sure that they’ll have stories to tell. In each case, the stories are of Appalachia as both gentlemen grew up in West Virginia. Pinckney Benedict reverently namechecks Breece D’J Pancake in his foreword to Give Us a Kiss by Daniel Woodrell, another writer very much defined by the mountains of his birthplace. Instead of the Appalachians, however, it was the Ozarks that dominated Woodrell’s formative years.

Anyway, Pinckney Benedict begins his superb introduction by recalling a family reunion at his grandmother’s house in southern West Virginia. He was about seven at the time and he noticed that his great-uncle, Hunter Bean, appeared to be alone, so he asked his mother why this was so and he was told, “You go over and ask him that.” Snippet:

“At that age, though, I just couldn’t imagine why a grown man wasn’t married. So I went over to my great-uncle and I asked him, ‘Uncle Hunter, why haven’t you got a wife?’

He stopped scooping food onto an already-full plate — even now the memory of the groaning boards of those big family occasions make my mouth water — and he leaned down distressingly close to my face, and he bugged his eyes, and he said to me, serious as death (I will never until the day I die forget the words or the thrill of horror they sent through me), ‘The hogs et her!'”

That sets the tone for Woodrell’s fantastic novel, which is peopled by “the once-prosperous Redmonds” and the “near-simian Dollys”, as Benedict describes the protagonists. Along with the hilarity, the hillbilly sex, the booze and the guns, there are moments of magic realism as when the narrator drives by a road-kill carcass:

“It was a coyote, and its yellow fur was busted open in the rib cage area and alive with maggots, so that it seemed to be breathing, busted open or not. One of my past-life voices (the girl on ancient Crete who milked goats and was barren) broke through the veil and said, ‘Look closely Imaru!’ Imaru is what they all call me, even the most recently past ones. The exposed meat of the coyote showed signs of having been pecked and torn by all manner of lesser creatures who would have fled before the beast when he lived. I guess I sensed the message but didn’t rightly absorb it.”

Echoes there of the great Cormac McCarthy, but it’s all Daniel Woodrell and his is a unique and original voice. Do yourself a summer reading favour and take some of his books to the beach.


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