RARA-AVIS: Re: Pinkney Benedict

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 18 Sep 2003

In a message dated 9/18/03 4:04:56 AM Eastern Daylight Time, owner-rara-avis@icomm.ca writes:

<< From: Michael Robison < miker_zspider@yahoo.com>
 Subject: RARA-AVIS: Benedict's DOGS OF GOD
 I mentioned Pinkney Benedict a long while ago and
 didn't get a rise out of anyone. I'm rereading it
 now. Here's a few lines:
 "You ever hunt a wild hog?"
 "We used spears. Pikes with long points and
 crosspieces welded to them just behind the blade.
 They were sharp and extremely clumsy. You must have
 the crosspiece on your shaft, because without it an
 impaled boar will simply climb the shaft of the lance
 to get at the hunter. Shove the spear right on
 through its own body. You use the crosspiece to fight
 off the boar until it dies."
 Although this dialogue is talking about somewhere
 else, Benedict invokes the flora and fauna of West
 Virginia like Chandler invokes Los Angeles, playing
 off it to enforce the atmosphere of the story.
 It's the first novel he wrote, following a series of
 short stories. You can feel the short story writing
 influence in the novel. It's not your standard
 stripped down hardboiled fare. Benedict takes his
 time, but that doesn't mean it's boring. From the
 first sentence, you can feel an evil wind rising.
Somewhere around here I have an ARC of Benedict's first book TOWN SMOKES, which I greatly enjoyed. I keep meaning to check out his novel which does sound quite good. I first noticed Benedict because I was involved in politics when he first emerged and he comes from a prominent family in West Virginia. His father served in the U.S. House of Representatives for one term in the early 80s and ran for the Senate against Senator Bob Byrd. In an odd footnote, Pinkney's grandfather also ran against Senator Byrd in the 1950s. Pinkney himself seems to have no political ambition--which with his writing ability he doesn't need to waste his energy in politics. Only the Latin writers seem to be able to combine politics and government service with writing.

But, Mike, if you like Pinkney, let me recommend another West Virginia writer to you with an unusual name: Breece D'J Pancake. Don't take my word for it, here is what Joyce Carol Oates said on reviewing THE STORIES OF BREECE D'J PANCAKE in 1983: "A writer of such extraordinary gifts that one is tempted to compare his debut to Hemingway's." She wasn't interesting in pleasing the writer as poor Breece blew his brains out at the age of 26.

Now if that is not enough, here is the most remarkable praise from Kurt Vonnegut. This is from a letter Vonnegut wrote to National Book Award winner John Casey which amplifies further his praise:

"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. (Now get this last line) You and I will never know."

He writes of miners and ex-cons and others in the grit world where everything revolves around the fight for survival. I have to say that Pancake is not the best writer I have ever read nor the most sincere. He is very, very good and that makes his self-destruction such a thing of regret for we will never know how good he would have become.

Richard Moore

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