The eighth edition of Granta, the ‘Dirty Realism’ issue in 1983, celebrated ‘a generation of American authors who write about the belly-side of contemporary life ... and have single-handedly revitalised the short story’. Breece Pancake’s first collection appeared in the same year. Joyce Carol Oates hailed ‘a young writer of such extraordinary gifts that one is tempted to compare his debut to Hemingway’s’. Yet while Pancake’s depictions of hardscrabble rural lives indisputably qualified as dirty realism, he was unable to capitalise on the surrounding excitement about this new wave of fiction, as four years previously he had taken his own life, aged twenty-six. He had published six stories in his lifetime, and another six were added to make up the posthumous volume. Now, thirty-one years later, it has been reissued.
The title story, probably his best, opens the collection and establishes Pancake’s template. Colly, the narrator, lives on a farm with his mother following his father’s death; she wants to sell up but he disagrees, feeling an obscure loyalty to the land even though he is an inept farmer and