The general effect of this collection of short stories is to be in the presence of legend and myth. Even re-reading the introduction by James Alan McPherson, another lauded short story artist working at UVA from the 1970s through the 1990s (I think, but maybe longer), is that Breece D,J Pancake (yes his real name, sort of, with the D,J being a misprint in publication he stuck with) sweeping into Charlottesville VA, publishing a bunch of stories…living a LIFE and than dying by suicide. This is the legend. If you’re not expressly familiar with Charlottesville and UVA, which I imagine is true for a lot of folks, it’s a small town that believes itself to be a SMALLER TOWNER place than it really is. It’s the home of a relatively prominent college life…for both academics and sports…and increasingly sees itself as a haven of liberal idealism. But it’s more conservative than it likes and UVA is deeply conservative…if not always Republican in its traditions, its adherence to gender and sexual and racial politics. So don’t let the recent events fool you, the struggle over the heart of Charlottesville is not between Nazis and Liberals, but between Liberals and the deeply entrenched conservative past of the area and the Commonwealth of Virginia at large.
This short collection, however, is legit. Even if it’s legend is overwrought and oversold, the stories are very very very good. I have read it multiple times and love it still today, being 10 or so years older than the author ever was. I knew a handful of Breece Pancakes in my day….overly intelligent, overly confident, deeply fragile when it came down to it. Not all of them were as fruitful as this one, but all had that glow and charm and warmth of the living cursed.