Strange as This Weather Has Been

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Overview


Set in present day West Virginia, Ann Pancake’s debut novel, Strange As This Weather Has Been, tells the story of a coal mining family—a couple and their four children—living through the latest mining boom and dealing with the mountaintop removal and strip mining that is ruining what is left of their mountain life. As the mine turns the mountains to slag and wastewater, workers struggle with layoffs and children find adventure in the blasted moonscape craters.

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Overview


Set in present day West Virginia, Ann Pancake’s debut novel, Strange As This Weather Has Been, tells the story of a coal mining family—a couple and their four children—living through the latest mining boom and dealing with the mountaintop removal and strip mining that is ruining what is left of their mountain life. As the mine turns the mountains to slag and wastewater, workers struggle with layoffs and children find adventure in the blasted moonscape craters.

Strange As This Weather Has Been follows several members of the family, with a particular focus on fifteen-year-old Bant and her mother, Lace. Working at a “scab” motel, Bant becomes involved with a young miner while her mother contemplates joining the fight against the mining companies. As domestic conflicts escalate at home, the children are pushed more and more outside among junk from the floods and felled trees in the hollows—the only nature they have ever known. But Bant has other memories and is as curious and strong-willed as her mother, and ultimately comes to discover the very real threat of destruction that looms as much in the landscape as it does at home.

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Editorial Reviews

Jack Pendarvis
Ann Pancake's fine, ambitious first novel is about something simple: what it's like to live below a mountaintop-removal strip mine. As one family negotiates the Vesuvian landscape of their wrecked hollow, its natural defenses against flooding uprooted and trashed, readers may think of the aftermath of Katrina, another man-made disaster. But until the book dips into explicit activism, this tragedy seems less the work of greedy businessmen than of a terrible old god…Pancake—she is a distant relative of the short-story writer Breece D'J Pancake—makes her point in Strange as This Weather Has Been in a powerful, sure-footed and haunting way: People aren't dirt. But they know when they're being treated like dirt, whether in the Lower Ninth Ward or the hills of West Virginia.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

A hard-living Appalachian family weathers a contemporary coal boom in the debut from West Virginia native Pancake. Soon after their first meeting in the 1980s, college freshman Lace See and 15-year-old local boy James Makepeace Turrell ("Jimmy Make") conceive their first child. Nearly 20 years later, Lace is uneasily settled as a mother to Jimmy's four children as a flurry of strip mining and clear cutting make the mountains she has known since childhood unrecognizable. One summer right after a strip-mining induced flood, things come to a head. Lace's environmental activism ramps up; daughter Bant, working at a local motel, discovers her allegiance to the mountains and her sexuality; each of Lace and Jimmy's three sons (Corey, Jimmy and Dane) is touched in turn by the collapsing economy and environment. Lush descriptions of the landscape are matched with a hurtling stream-of-consciousness narration to great effect: one doubts neither the characters' voices nor their places in a very complex poverty. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
A Pushcart Prize-winner offers a searing indictment of the coal industry in this memorable debut novel. A native of West Virginia, Pancake used interviews and real events to shape the fictional story of Lace, Jimmy Make and their four children. Lace first met Jimmy when he was 15 and she was old enough to know better, a college freshman at home for the weekend. The two begin messing around and soon Lace is pregnant, drops out of college and moves back home to the kind of life she thought she had escaped. When her daughter Bant is born, Lace rediscovers the mountain and feels a belonging to the land of her ancestors. Four years later, Lace and Jimmy marry and have son Dane, and then Corey and finally little Tommy. They fall into poverty, mainly due to the new kind of strip mining now used in West Virginia. Well-paid union miners are gone and instead scab laborers work at what's called mountaintop removal-an environmentally devastating method of coal extraction that leaves the landscape utterly barren and the people who live there in danger of both flooding and chemical poisoning. Lace becomes involved in a grassroots movement to save the area from further damage, but nobody wants to listen to poor folk from the hills, and so the family teeters on the verge of destruction. Lace works at Dairy Queen, Jimmy watches TV all day and 15-year-old Bant has a job painting the scab boarding house (where she begins a flirtation with a worker). Dane, meanwhile, lives in terror that the next flood (nothing to do with us, says the coal company) will kill them all, while Corey and Tommy live in the smaller world of childhood that can be just as treacherous as the hollowed-out mountain looming above theirhouse. Pancake, incorporating the cadence of the region, beautifully balances the tragedy of this family in decline with the inevitable destruction of their homeland. The best kind of reportage fiction: evocative and meaningful.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593761660
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2007
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 292,122
  • Product dimensions: 6.08 (w) x 8.94 (h) x 1.07 (d)

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