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Breece D’J Pancake’s Quiet Magnificence
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In the visual arts, there’s Egon Schiele who died at 28, Seurat at 31, and the photographer Francesca Woodman, who leapt from a window of a Lower East Side building at just 22 years of age.

In literature, there’s Hart Crane. Chugging from Mexico to NYC on a steamship, the 32-year-old poet couldn’t help but hit on some handsome sailors, so got thrashed. Totally trashed days later, Crane keeled overboard. “Goodbye, everybody!”

Sylvia Plath was just 30 when she gassed herself. Her fatal despair also fueled her enduring collection, Ariel, with its fantastically deranged yet much celebrated poem, “Daddy.”

The German-born Otto Plath was a biologist who published Bumblebees and Their Ways in 1934. When Otto died in 1940, Sylvia was just 8-years-old. Although there’s no indication he had any Fascist sympathies, Otto transformed into an uber Nazi in Sylvia’s imagination.

This isn’t just fine but necessary, according to the Jewish critic Marjorie Perloff, “The Age Demanded a universal theme—the rejection not only of the ‘real’ father but also of the Nazi Father Of Us All […]”

Lauding “Daddy” as “the ‘Guernica’ of modern poetry,” the equally chosen George Steiner comments, “Sylvia Plath is only one of a number of young contemporary poets, novelists, and playwrights, themselves in no way implicates in the actual holocaust, who have done most to counter the general inclination to forget the death camps.”

(Far from being forgotten, George, it’s a permanent indictment of the entire West, a colossal hoax that can’t be challenged. Distorting and extorting society, the Holocaust is an insatiable Moloch.)

American letters’ biggest loss to an early death, though, is Breece D’J Pancake. While still a student at the University of Virginia, Pancake shot himself in the head, at age 26. His entire oeuvre consists of just 12 stories, but you’d hard pressed to find a finer batch.

Pancake’s story collection was published posthumously. Though he had joked to his mother that it should be called, “Bullshit Artist,” there’s no false note here. Pancake’s prose is always true and often startlingly fresh, and that’s because he observed and listened very attentively to his native West Virginia.

Stories matter because, at their best, they capture the texture of a place, and give us its inner life also. Beyond their plot or wisdom, they show us how people from a distant place and time really felt, thought and spoke.

Quotidian language is already creative, if not charming and amusing, but the fiction writer is not just a transcriber, of course. He must distill. Consider this exchange between two men, one much older, from Pancake’s “Trilobites”:

The girl brings Jim’s coffee in his cup, and we watch her pump back to the kitchen. Good hips.

“You see that?” He jerks his head toward her.

I say, “Moundsville Molasses.” I can spot jailbait by a mile.

“Hell, girl’s age never stopped your dad and me in Michigan.”

“Tell the truth.”

“Sure. You got to time it so you nail the first freight out when your pants are up.”

I look at the windowsill. It is speckled with the crisp skeletons of flies. “Why’d you and Pop leave Michigan?”

The crinkles around Jim’s eyes go slack. He says, “The war,” and sips his coffee.

“Pump,” “nail” and “skeleton of flies” are so deft and suggestive. Pancake delivers.

“Good hips” instead of “nice ass” is also a nice alteration, and the old man’s “You see that?” is comically authentic.

Of course, stemmed humyns are perked up by good hips, not cloaked up, and youth, as life, ever more life, always seduces, whatever the law. It’s only natural.

If not for this “sexism,” we’d have a society of dour dykes, seething incels and ghastly drag queens, like, well, right now, but I better not say that. It’s not correct.

In “Trilobites,” the narrator, Colly, is briefly visited by his old girlfriend, Ginny. Having moved from West Virginia to Florida, Ginny admits to having a new guy who’s “doing plankton research.”

Still, for old times’ sake, they have sex, and not very prettily, “I slide her to the floor. Her scent rises to me, and I shove crates aside to make room. I don’t wait. She isn’t making love, she’s getting laid. All right, I think, all right. Get laid. I pull her pants around her ankles, rut her.”

Again, the stark, nearly brutal language, but Pancake never allows us to laugh at any of his characters, unlike, say, with Flannery O’Connor. Pancake merges into each one, and through his artistry, we too suffer their desperation, shame and sorrows.

Unlike Ginny, Colly hasn’t been anywhere, “When I was a young punk, I tried to run away from home. I was walking through this meadow on the other side of the Hill, and this shadow passed over me. I honest to god thought it was a pterodactyl. It was a damned airplane. I was so damn mad, I came home.” That’s as close as he’s ever gotten to an airplane.

The dinette’s jailbait is also described as having “Hips and legs that climb steps into airplanes.”

Pancake’s implicit and suggestive style is indebted to Hemingway and his iceberg theory, of course, and his terse prose also betrays influence, but Pancake’s atmosphere, his climate, if you will, is clearly different. It is more grounded, often more trapped, and aches much more.

Further, Pancake’s characters speak with a surer poetry. The younger writer had the better ear, simply put.


Pancake is also more in-tune with the day-to-day grind of ordinary survival. In “A Room Forever,” what a beautiful title, a barge hand describes all the other lonely hearts on a New Year’s Eve, “I look around. All these people have come down from their flops because there are no parties for them to go to. They are strangers who play a little pool or pinball, drink a little booze. All year they grit their teeth—they pump gas and wait tables and screw chippies and bait queers, and they don’t like any of it, but they know they are lucky to get it.”

Get what? Anything, if you’re lucky.

Not knowing what to do with himself, the narrator wanders the superficially festive streets. Feeling mean and low, he enjoys the sight of a drunk bum trying to spread newspapers for his bed, in some cold alley, then he’s softened by the sight of an underaged whore, standing in a doorway, marking him.

They end up in his room, “The darkness is the best thing. There is no face, no talk, just warm skin, something close and kind, something to be lost in. But when I take her, I know what I’ve got—a little girl’s body that won’t move from wear or pleasure, a kid playing whore, and I feel ugly with her, because of her. I force myself on her like the rest. I know I am hurting her, but she will never get any breaks. She whimpers and my body arches in spasms, then after, she curls in a ball away from me, and I touch her. She is numb.”

When he suggests she could stay in this room for the month, get a job at Sears or Penny’s, then pay him back later, she tells him to “just shut-the-fuck-up.” Though he’s slated to ship out the next day, she doesn’t know that, so probably thinks he just wants free sex, but that’s for us to deduce. Pancake doesn’t spell everything out.

Leaving her john, the girl ends up getting plastered in a bar, before slitting her wrists, though without success. She’ll have plenty left to endure.

In Pancake’s story collection, there’s an introduction by James Alan McPherson, and two afterwords, by John Casey and Andre Dubus III. McPherson and Casey were Pancake’s professors at Virginia. Pancake didn’t live long enough to have many literary friends.

McPherson’s recollection is particularly vivid. At their very first meeting, “He asked if I drank beer, if I played pinball, if I owned a gun, if I hunted or fished.”

As outsiders at this still uptight and complexly stratified university, they became fast friends. They drank and even went to movies together. McPherson, a black man, wasn’t just Pancake’s mentor but also a father figure.

McPherson recalls that Pancake was a compulsive gift giver. After McPherson had helped Pancake place a story in the Atlantic, his very first publication, the young man invited his professor to a fine seafood dinner, then gave him a 12-gauge shotgun. Pancake had a closet full of guns.

Tired of Virginia, McPherson left for Yale in 1978, thus ending their two-year friendship. A professor can only do so much. When Pancake sent McPherson a package, he didn’t open it, because “renewing my connection with Breece would take my memories back to Charlottesville, and I wanted to be completely free of the place.”

Less than a year later, Pancake would be dead, but it’s nearly impossible to trace the causes of many, if not most, suicides, for they often have byzantine, far-reaching roots no one can untangle.

Pancake’s father had died of alcoholism, and Pancake drank more than his share, even competitively, to the point of getting into bar fights, with the scars to proudly boast about afterwards.

On one postcard sent to a friend, Pancake wrote as the return address, “One Blow Out Your Brain.” To another friend, he confessed, “If I weren’t a good Catholic, I’d consider getting a divorce from life.”

In Pancake’s stories, there are these ghosts, “He saw his ghost in the window against the outside’s grayness and felt his gut rumble with the flux.”

“Hollis sat by his window all night, staring at his ghost in glass, looking for some way out of the tomb Jake had built for him.”

“And Ottie sees them together a last time: a dying dog and two useless children, forever ghosts, they can neither scream nor play; even dead, they fight over bones.”

“Bo looked out on the broom-sedge slopes. He could swear his daddy’s ghost answered, ‘Yech.’”

“In the window I see our ghosts against the black gloss of glass.”

“The remnants of the night lay strewn about the leaf-floor like a torpid ghost.”

“He loaded his gun and watched a low trail in the brush, a trail he saw through outlines of snow in the ghost light.”

There are even more Pancake ghosts, but you get the idea.

Most strikingly, John Casey, his other professor, claims to have been visited by Pancake’s ghost.

At first, it was only a disturbance of the senses. As Casey was walking across a campus lawn, “I smelled something. I tasted metal in my mouth. I didn’t recognize the smell for an instant. It was a smell I’d known well years before. Gun bluing. But inside this sense of taste and smell was a compelling sympathy, beyond the sympathy of that’s what it smelled like to have the muzzle in his mouth.”

Then, “A month after the experience on the lawn, I was lying in the bathtub trying to think of nothing. I heard a short laugh. Then Breece’s voice, an unmistakable clear twang: ‘That’s one way to get the last word.’” That year, Casey heard Pancake several more times.

After Breece’s death, James Alan McPherson visited Pancake’s native region, a landscape of hills and hollows, “Horizontal vision, in that area, is rare. The sky there is circumscribed by insistent hillsides thrusting upward. It is an environment crafted by nature for the dreamer and for the resigned.”

Of such dreaming, Pancake intones it so gorgeously, “I’ve got eyes to shut in Michigan—maybe even Germany or China, I don’t know yet. I walk, but I’m not scared. I feel my fear moving away in rings through time for a million years.”


Beyond restless yearning and defeatist resignation, there must be other options, though, such as a deepening love for one’s persistently circumscribed hollow, with its too many ghosts one can’t escape from. (As a global tramp, I should be the last to preach this.) There’s always another side to each corpse, no matter how many times you turn him over.

The brightest prospect of America’s quickening disintegration is the reemergence of the local. No longer poisoned by so much centralized filth, we will finally see and hear our neighbors more clearly, as if for the first time, even, thus clearing the way for the emergence of many more Breece D’J Pancakes.

As for the original, may Breece haunt us as long as English survives.

Linh Dinh’s latest book is Postcards from the End of America. He maintains a regularly updated photo blog.

• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Literature 
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  1. If not for this “sexism,” we’d have a society of dour dykes, seething incels and ghastly drag queens, like, well, right now, but I better not say that. It’s not correct.

    Our epitaph.

  2. Obsessing on suicide authors. You need to get out again among the low-life characters on the streets and in seedy bars; that’ll raise your spirits.

    • Agree: Biff
    • Disagree: Petermx
    • LOL: Pheasant
  3. A fine piece Linh. I’d like you to read some JG Ballard if you haven’t (“a languid swimming nightmare of fertile illusions” – The Drowned World).

    • Replies: @MGB
  4. Emslander says:

    I’d say that there are serious obstacles on the interior of Linh’s thinking. His psychic deformations will always get in the way of the excellence he might have otherwise achieved.

    • Troll: Craig Nelsen
    • Replies: @PJ London
  5. It struck me that Pancake may have read Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again in which this sentence is set:

    “Out front, in the windows that looked on the Square, their glass specked with the ghosts of flies that died when Gettysburg was young, were two old, frayed, mottled-yellow window shades, themselves as old as Garfield, and still faintly marked with the distinguished names of ‘Kennedy and Bland.’”

    • Thanks: Cortes
  6. My favorite American author has always been the much reviled and banned Henry Miller. He was a Francophile and that is his only weakness in my eyes.
    But his views about America and the Jews were spot on.
    To our modern sensibilities, it seems absurd that his books were banned right till the 60’s. I find his stream of writing almost hypnotic and still read him.
    Miller rejected the American dream and ridiculed it at every opportunity and I want to take this opportunity to re-introduce Henry Miller to Americans.
    Do read him, he wasn’t evil or bad and is highly engaging.

    • Agree: ThreeCranes, Iris
  7. unit472 says:

    I happened to listen to a bit of NPR driving home from the store. It was one of their ‘fun game shows’ called ‘Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me’ where a caller is asked questions about current news events. Its, like I said, supposed to be fun as there are no luxury vacations or new cars a contestant can win so the hosts try and joke around and keep things entertaining but they can’t. Modern leftism has constructed a minefield around banter and conversation that leaves it barren and inauthentic. A single offhand ‘inappropriate’ remark can end a career at NPR and the offender will not be able to find another in the world they are busy ‘building back better’. They know that so there is no spontaneity or genuine wit allowed. Everything must be run through their internal PC calculator before it can be said out loud.

  8. nsa says:

    Writers are mostly frauds. Take for instance Charlie Bukowski, the so-called poet laureate of Los Angeles. Ole Charlie specialized in “dark gritty” tales of mean streets and down-and-outers. Around age 50, he couldn’t crank out the low rent crap anymore, so he hired on a couple of grad students from UCLA who could imitate his awful stuff and sold their output as his own. Charlie amusedly reflected: “the literary critic at the LA Times declared that Bukowski was at long last back….and better than ever”.

    • Replies: @loren
    , @ricpic
    , @Kudzu Bob
  9. As for “not spelling it out.” I know they’re in a diner. I don’t know how I know. Probly the coffee or something. But how are people reading the story in the future going to know it’s a diner? Or people in Mongolia? Why can’t he just say, “diner.” One little word won’t destroy his perfect Hemingwayesque laconicism. How would you like it if you discovered some ancient greek papyrus in the sand and it said something as enigmatic as this? Would you be scratching your head. “Wha’ he say?” Grist for a thousand dissertations and cruxes galore ad infinitum.

    Btw, I thought Negroes were bad.

  10. ruralguy says:

    Pancake is gone, like most other things that are unique. I guess everyone became bland consumers, watching others on Netflix, instead of following their own path.

    I got to know many transients, aka bums, when I hung out in a downtown, after college classes in the 1970s. They were quite different from others. A lot of that uniqueness is probably rightfully called mental illness, today. Most were alcoholics, with no sense of direction, but always impulsive and looking for adventure. There was something quite likeable about them, even though some were downright dangerous and unstable. People admire free-range chickens, not knowing that they really don’t live long.

  11. Dumbo says:

    Sylvia Plath had many mental health issues, and not just “daddy” issues. I’ve read part of her diaries, and even before meeting Ted Hughes she was clearly a complicated woman.

    Never heard of this Breece Pancake guy. I thought the name was a pseudonym, it sounds so ridiculous, but no, apparently it’s his real name (except for the D’J part). I didn’t know Pancake could be a surname. I’ll check him out.

    Lots of writers have a tendency to die early, either by suicide or unhealthy living. Also geniuses and artistic people in general have more probability of having mental issues, depression and such. It’s the price they pay for the talent I guess. (But not all, not all).

    • Replies: @PlumAvocado
  12. (As a global tramp, I should be the last to preach this.)

    Or the first

  13. @obwandiyag

    Btw, I thought Negroes were bad.

    You’re letting your preconceptions bias your perceptions.

    When an engineering prof told me that as he handed me back an exam, I went back and reexamined how I was setting up my problems and changed my approach. After that I aced every exam in that class.

    In theory, you as a black man could conceivably reevaluate and change your approach to life’s problems but practically speaking, you won’t or can’t. We whites have learned not to expect much from you blacks. If you, as a black man, can get through life without causing too much harm to others or without incurring too much costs in our supporting you, we whites call that a win. We don’t expect you to have the self awareness to see and judge how much of a burden you are upon us. We just accept that we will have to bear the burden of being yoked to you, of carrying and dragging you along as we plow the furrow of life. We could bear it Stoically if only you didn’t whine and complain so much but the aggravation that causes us seems to give you pleasure. We would gladly unhook and drop you off at the end of a row but the prospect of being alone terrifies you and you won’t let us.

    Someday, maybe things will change and we will be liberated, freed from bondage to you. Every man and woman needs hope and the prospect of Emancipation! is what keeps us, we white people, going.

    • Agree: Colin Wright
  14. “And Ottie sees them together a last time: a dying dog and two useless children, forever ghosts, they can neither scream nor play; even dead, they fight over bones.” (Breece Pancake)

    Is it only me, or does anyone else see the above-quoted lines from Pancake as being strikingly similar to how Linh expresses himself in every essay? It seemed so familiar, so much like Linh, my mind naturally flowed in that direction: the familiar. Striking.

    I admit, my attention was occasionally divided whilst I first read Linh’s piece, and so I wasn’t’ quite sure when I came to the above-quoted material if I was reading a quote from Pancake or from Linh. Which is the point, of course: their lovely occasional similarity in style and manner of expression. Very nice.

    Thanks again to our rapidly strengthening Linh for another superb piece that lovingly, yet with harsh honesty, explores American writers known and unknown. This is a nice recent trend I’m really enjoying.

    Pancake’s writings excerpted were very powerful. Great stuff!

    • Replies: @Polemos
  15. An amusing literary hoax. But not up to William Boyd’s standard, but he is a literary artist, whereas Mr Dinh, no insult intended, is only a very good journalist.

    Mr Dinh, deliberately of course, failed to mention the English Lit pre-eminent premature death – Johnny Keats ( 25 ), much beloved of female New Zealand film directors. Although he was engaged to Fanny Braun, she wasn’t Jewish and neither was he, of course.

    So,I expect, when Mr Dinh has fully recovered, 2 or more full pieces on Johnny and Fanny. Go for it dude.

    • Replies: @Dumbo
    , @Dumbo
  16. Tim too says:

    Trout Fishing in America – Richard Brautigan

    The Brautigan library.


    • Replies: @Franz
    , @Cortes
  17. Good hips instead of nice donkey? Try writing in English. Try pronouncing “arse”.

  18. I gather Linh was looking at American authors, but the ultimate suicide poet must have been Sergei Yesenin who wrote his last poem Goodbye my friend, goodbye with his own blood and then hanged himself in a hotel room.

    • Replies: @Iris
  19. Excellent article! Now I want to read Breece D’J Pancake’s stuff!

  20. MGB says:

    Just read empire of the sun a few months ago. Brilliant stuff.

  21. Linh Dinh says: • Website

    Hi all,

    You can read Pancake’s “Trilobites” for free at the Atlantic. Do it slow, so you don’t miss anything:


    • Replies: @PlumAvocado
  22. Anonymous[291] • Disclaimer says:

    As for “not spelling it out.” I know they’re in a diner. I don’t know how I know. Probly the coffee or something. But how are people reading the story in the future going to know it’s a diner? Or people in Mongolia? Why can’t he just say, “diner.”

    You could read the story:

    “I go into the cafe. The place is empty, and I rest in the cooled air. Tinker Reilly’s little sister pours my coffee. She has good hips. They are kind of like Ginny’s and they slope in nice curves to her legs. Hips and legs like that climb steps into airplanes. She goes to the counter end and scoffs down the rest of her sundae. I smile at her, but she’s jailbait.”

  23. Franz says:
    @Tim too

    Richard Brautigan

    You beat me to it.

    Great stuff and fun to read.

    My tastes ran to A Confederate General from Big Sur and In Watermelon Sugar. But everyone has a favorite.

    Died a bit later than Pancake, but then maybe Richard had more demons to deal with. Brautigan attracted both Beats and some Hippies, but he hated both types. He had a rough life though, so he had to take the buyers that came his way. With these people, suicide is a given.

  24. Dumbo says:

    But Keats didn’t commit suicide, which is the common theme here.

    Fanny Brawne (I assume your misspelling is intentional as a reference to Hitler’s girlfriend) might not have been Jewish, but she wasn’t so beautiful.

    I can see Linh’s attraction for Pancake’s work, and relative disregard for, say, O’Connor.

    Both seem to write in a similar way and attracted to the same “lumpenproletariat hanging in dive bars” themes. I am reading Trilobites now. He’s good but, I just… I don’t know. I prefer O’Connor, and others. And Keats.

  25. Dumbo says:

    An amusing literary hoax.

    I think there is a distinct possibility that this Pancake dude could really be just the creation of some other writer. Isn’t after all “Elena Ferrante” a fictional creation, and someone else is writing her stuff?

    There are a few other famous cases.

    Some argue that some of Bob “Nobel Prize joke” Dylan’s best verses were actually written by another Jew, Leonard Cohen, who was indeed a more talented writer. I don’t know, it’s possible. In any case, it was the stupidest Literature Nobel Prize ever.

    • Replies: @Verymuchalive
    , @loren
  26. HalconHigh says: • Website

    Like Pancake’s father, my father also died of alcoholism.
    In the end, one-legged & wheelchair bound, with the mind of a child, I wasn’t even sure he knew who I was.

    It might have been one of his happiest times though.
    He had developed the habit of sneaking around the rest home he was living at (my mother finally having rid herself of that duty) and stealing the panties from women and hiding them in his room.

    When the staff told me, I couldn’t believe it, but then I caught him red-handed.
    He just stared at me with child-like eyes and the hint of a prideful smile.

    “deepening love from one’s persistently circumscribed hollow, with it’s too many ghosts one can’t escape from”

    I love that line, Linh.

    ps….when I first saw the headline, I thought of Frank Zappa’s ode to catholicism

    At St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast

    Where I stole the mar-ja-reen

  27. @Dumbo

    I must totally agree with you on this one. And Leonard Cohen was indeed a more talented writer than Dylan. Also his songs reveal a sense of humour almost completely lacking in Dylan. I remember laughing out loud when I first heard Cohen’s “Closing Time.” Dylan has never even made me smile !

    • Replies: @Lochearn
  28. Iris says:
    @Commentator Mike

    but the ultimate suicide poet must have been Sergei Yesenin who wrote his last poem Goodbye my friend, goodbye

    Esenin’s taking his own life in 1925 caused a vague of suicides among his admirers in the USSR, to which poet Vladimir Mayakovsky replied by his 1926 work “Poem to Esenin”, trying to make the point that life was worth living and that every opportunity for happiness should be snatched from it.

    Oh Word – commander-in-chief of human powers.
    Forward march! That time may whistle by as rockets flare.
    So the wind shall carry to the past of ours
    Only the ruffling of our hair.
    Our planet is poorly equipped for delight.
    One must snatch gladness from the days that are.
    In this life
    It’s not difficult to die.
    To make life
    Is more difficult by far.

    Mayakovsky himself committed suicide; he was known to defiantly play Russian roulette and shot himself in the heart in 1930, aged 37.

    Although he died so young, Mayakovsky is one of the leading figures of avant-garde Russian language literature, and recognised as having established a revived and modern poetic language. Louis Aragon and Pablo Neruda were among his admirers and acknowledged his influence on their own works.

    The inter-world war period must have felt, and rightly so, like the end of the world to sensitive people who lived through it.

    • Agree: Polemos
    • Thanks: ChuckOrloski
  29. Lochearn says:

    Yes, Leonard had a great sense of impish humour.

    His account of his meeting with Janis Joplin in a hotel lift is a case in point. He asked her if she was looking for someone and she replied, “Yeah, Kris Kristofferson.” He left a slight pause and said, “I’m Kris Kristofferson.” He laughed as he pointed out that physically he couldn’t have been more different from Kris. But off they went to bed.

  30. republic says:

    Yukio Mishima exited the world in a flamboyant manner,first by hira-kiri,then by decapitation after his failed coup attempt in 1970 in Japan

    • Replies: @gar manar nar
  31. @Dumbo

    No, not all. Anthony Trollope appears to have been normal and disciplined. I don’t think mental problems are a price of talent, but may arise from unfavorable circumstances and/or unhealthy lifestyles. I read The Bell Jar years ago. I didn’t like it.

  32. @Linh Dinh

    Thanks. That was beautiful writing.

    • Replies: @Michelle
  33. Cortes says:
    @Tim too

    Willard and His Bowling Trophies is magnificent.

  34. Michelle says:

    Su effing purb! Covid must have affected Linh’s mind like an LSD trip!

  35. @republic

    yes, then by decapitation . . his second required multiple cuts to hack through his neck.

  36. Thanks for this. I’ve noticed the name (hard not to) for years, only recently picked up the kindle on sale, but still hadn’t gotten around to it; now I will.

    I must note — as it seems Unz-relevant — that the collection is disfigured by starting off with a Foreword by some black guy (he lets you infer he’s black on the first page, a la Pancake, and confirms it on the second) who apparently allowed himself to be hired by UVA so that he could experience white privilege (as we would hear it called today) first hand, and spends the whole piece tying his recollections of BDJP to his bellyaching about the centuries of racism and classism that made the South a hellish experience for well paid elite college professors like himself. All too contemporary; he should be happy now, half the faculty and all the students agree with him, and I can imagine him delighting in the university stripping itself of its entire history, and feeling a sense of vindication at James Fields’ conviction.

    • Replies: @Linh Dinh
  37. loren says:

    I skimmed a book at the library. One of the sex pistols.
    sex pistol wanted a free book from Burroughs? in europe [when pistol was poor] and got cussed out.

  38. loren says:

    f Bob “Nobel Prize joke” Dylan’s best verses were actually written by another Jew, Leonard Cohen,

    doubtful, but possible. Cohen bedded janis joplin. I will add.

    Bob hasnt done a great album in 45 years.

  39. Linh Dinh says: • Website
    @James J O'Meara

    Hi James,

    I think you’re being a little unfair to James Alan McPherson.

    Pancake was extremely close to McPherson. Like I said in the article, McPherson wasn’t just his mentor but a father figure, and he launched Pancake’s career by introducing his work to the Atlantic. Very few writing professors have been able to do anything similar for a student. Pancake expressed his thanks by taking his professor out for dinner, then gave McPherson a shotgun. He also gave McPherson a trilobite.

    Pancake’s mom certainly appreciated this friendship. She wrote to McPherson, “I think you should come over (drive or train, I’ll pay your expenses and “put you up”) because if you do the preface I feel you should be more familiar with this valley and [my son] Breece’s surroundings as well as what you knew of him in Charlottesville.”

    McPherson’s articulate and loving introduction gives us the necessary context to approach Pancake.


    • Replies: @James J O'Meara
  40. @obwandiyag

    Sounds like a pretty imperialist (even…temporally imperialist) attitude if I’ve ever heard one.

    The Greeks wrote for themselves, not 21st-century Mongolians. Similarly, he wrote for people who apparently can infer what a diner is.

    Imagine how infuriating it would be to be a gaseous entity that communicates through bursts of light, faced with a picture book about diners. How unthoughtful of humans.

    As for Blacks being bad…well, I never said anyone was 100% anything.

  41. PJ London says:

    Is the term ‘psychic deformations’ supposed to have meaning?
    Surely you meant psychic conformations or maybe psychic reformations, perhaps psychic deflorations, how about psychic constipations?
    The term ‘wanker’ comes to mind.

  42. RudyM says:

    “Pump,” “nail” and “skeleton of flies” are so deft and suggestive.

    You’re easily impressed.

  43. Polemos says:
    @Mustapha Mond

    I think the meter in that passage you quote is very reminiscent of what Linh does with his writings when he’s closing out a section and not forming a bridge to the next section.

    The words they write, they touch you in the dark. Not in your nethers, nor in your bones; like gentle housecats, laying paws on your eyes. “Hello, human, you are here.”

    Something like that.

    • Agree: Mustapha Mond
  44. @Linh Dinh

    Point(s) taken. McPherson is obviously pro-Pancake both personally and career-wise, and has more than a right to be the one to introduce him and his collection.

    My complaint arises from his introduction of such themes as how brave he was to expose himself to the horrors of White Supremacy at UVA, and if he hadn’t made his escape (to Yale, apparently the new terminus of the underground railroad) I’m sure he would have been helping to pull down statutes in Charlottesville and demanding justice for Heather Heyer.

    It reads like a earlier version of T. Coates or Ibram X. Kendi, where he still sees Pancake, being a poor White, as an ally against the rich Whites of UVA. As such, it could just as well be criticized from the Left as being insufficiently woke for today’s audience. I criticized it here because an Unz reader who insisted on reading the book from the beginning might be put off by the introduction, so I was warning them away and suggesting they go right in and read the author himself; which everyone should do.

  45. peterike says:

    American letters’ biggest loss to an early death, though, is Breece D’J Pancake

    All due respect to Mr. Pancake, but our biggest losses were F. Scott Fitzgerald, Frank Norris and Stephen Crane.

    If one wishes to include music, add Buddy Holly and Stephen Foster.

    • Replies: @Linh Dinh
    , @Anonymous
  46. Linh Dinh says: • Website

    Hi peterike,

    I hear what you’re saying, but F. Scott Fitzgerald was 44 when he died and Frank Norris was 32, and both had published quite a lot. They had careers.

    Crane was only 28, but poets tend to mature earlier than fiction writers.

    Pancake was just 26 and still a student. He barely got started.


  47. ricpic says:

    Interesting that you bring up Bukowski because this Pancake kid strikes me as an almost-Bukowski. Except that Bukowski kept going.

    Don’t know if the story you tell about Bukowski is true or not. Doesn’t really matter to me since I find Bukowski at his best very good indeed.

    This kid was halfway there when he cut himself off. By that I mean that Bukowski slowly but surely eliminated anything literary from his writing. This kid is too consciously “an artist.”

    But then that’s part of being young. If he’d only hung in there…who knows what might have been?

    • Replies: @Dumbo
  48. Anonymous[377] • Disclaimer says:

    I can see Buddy Holly, dying at 22 when he was just getting started, but if you include Stephen Foster, dead at 37, why not George Gershwin, dead at 38?
    Among promising writers gone too soon, how about Bert Stiles, shot down in combat at the age of 24, author of Serenade to the Big Bird, about his experiences as part of a B-17 crew. He also wrote a series of stories for The Saturday Evening Post and was published in other magazines as well.
    “A book of terrific impact. Perhaps the best to come out of World War II.” From The Philadelphia Inquirer.

    Kindle and ePub versions downloadable here:
    PDF and other formats, as well as readable on-line here:

  49. Kudzu Bob says:

    Bukowski didn’t even quit sorting mail at the P.O. until he was forty-nine, and at the time of his fiftieth birthday he was living–existing, really–on a one hundred dollar per month advance that his publisher, John Martin of Black Sparrow Press, paid him. The notion that he somehow had the means to hire grad students to ghost-write his material is absurd. He could barely make the rent and keep beer in the fridge. It was not until some years later that he got any traction in his career, and only when he was about sixty was he living anything close to a middle-class life.

    I don’t know about most writers being frauds, but some commenters certainly are.

    • Thanks: Dumbo
  50. You are so right, Linh Dinh, about the re-emergence of the local as our only cultural hope.

    It’s important, though, to understand what we’re up against. Predatory absentee “investment” money managed from Wall Street is buying up local homes, businesses, land, resources, and talents with its bank-created bogus paper legalized counterfeit funny money at a tremendous rate and colonizing local communities with “chain” businesses, absentee landlords and credit and such like vampire filth. They’re even importing foreign vampires to help enserf and enslave Americans.

    Besides sucking the life-blood out of local communities into the pockets of hedge fund parasites, this has the effect of making it much more difficult and much more expensive to create local culture. It costs a quarter of a million dollars to open a coffee shop. To open a restaurant you have to be prepared to “compete” with the cheapo sawdust pseudo-food, slave labor and absentee backing of the likes of McDonalds, and this situation obtains across the board. Real culture costs nothing. It costs nothing to write a poem or sing a song. It’s the interface with society where the parasite sticks in his sucker. The reason concerts cost so much isn’t that the musicians are making out. The landlord and the insurance companies get “their” money first, and take the major share of it. And so on. Publishing is even worse, and ALL the major NYC publishers are owned by the same conglomerate.

    And then, most poisonous of all, the mass media mind-rot Lie Factory.

    One best hope is that some of the young manage to keep the bullshit detectors we are born with into adulthood. That’s what Education, Inc., and the Lie Factory are intended to prevent, thwart, divert, poison, terminate. It’s safe to say that no society in human history has drowned itself in anywhere near so many, so all-pervading, so toxic LIES.

    Hope you are starting to feel better. I like your eye-witness accounts better than your lit crit (no offense). Keep on keepin on.

    • Replies: @One-off
  51. One-off says:

    Another beautiful review and poetic, unexpected conclusion, Linh. Thanks once again. I definitely will check out Pancake. I was unaware of him.

    Suicide at a young age can cut both ways. In the case of John Toole (A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES), it led to overwrought praise and a posthumous Pulitzer for a good but hardly remarkable novel.

    It is an interesting question you raised. Will reconnection with our neighbors offset the deprivation of dwelling among the ruins? It certainly could, and with any luck those like Pancake and even Toole may stay with us longer, along with those who otherwise would join them on the floor of the Tribe’s blood-soaked opium temple.

  52. One-off says:
    @J. Alfred Powell

    True. Financial houses are snapping up houses at an alarming rate in the strangest of places, including small towns such as the one Linh referenced. Pretty good racket there: economically devastate a people and their place, finish them off with opiates, and snap up their land and houses. It cannot end well unless some stay, reconbect, and have their own communities. Certain people do not want that ending.

  53. Hart Crane committed suicide because a decade of extreme alcoholism left him incapable of writing and he could find no workable mode of livelihood in America that would not require the surrender or perversion or prostitution of his poetic vocation and his humanity. Crane’s “disgraceful” drunken behavior in the fo’c’sle and his morning after shame over it were merely the trigger. America and its favorite (and worst) drug, alcohol, loaded the gun.

  54. Way en says:

    You make me feel less alone in the world. Thank you.

  55. Dumbo says:

    I don’t like contemporary poetry in general, but Bukowski had some good little poems. His novels, I don’t know so much. I liked Ham on Rye, about his teenage years, but don’t remember much of it. I haven’t read any others, just started one that I found boring.

    I don’t think the story of the commenter is true.

    In any case, I don’t think that his style should be too hard to imitate.

  56. gsjackson says:

    “American letters’ greatest loss to an early death?” My vote goes to John Kennedy Toole. Talk about nailing a unique place. Nobody ever did New Orleans better.

  57. I don’t follow your displeasure with Flannery O’Connor. To me she’s a latter day prophet warning of our failures. I read Pancake’s stories forty-eight years ago, when I was just married. By far my favorite line was about a West Virginia road map resembling a pile of earthworms. However it doesn’t compare with the brilliance of O’Connors metaphors. In A Late Encounter With the Enemy, the “general” is dying as his daughter is graduating teacher’s college. The black-robed graduates filing into the auditorium mirror the infusion of blood loosed in his brain as he’s having a stroke and darkness and death close in.

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