Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The best kind of reportage fiction: evocative and meaningful." Kirkus Reviews
"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." New York Times
"Championing the protection of our environment, it will shake up readers to action and make them aware that what were doing to this land is not only murder it is suicide. Essential reading." Library Journal
"To understand the human toll such destruction exacts, one must turn to fiction, for novels such as Pancake's reflect deeper, timeless truths." Booklist
About the Author
Ann Pancacke grew up in Romney, West Virginia and as an adult continues to be haunted by the Appalachia of her childhood. She graduated summa cum laude from West Virginia University, obtained her M.A. in English from the University of North Carolina, and earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Washington. She has taught extensively in Japan, American Samoa, and Thailand. Her short stories have appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, and Antietam Review; she has also published creative non-fiction and scholarly articles. Her numerous awards include the Tennessee Williams Scholarship in Fiction, the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, and the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writers' Fellowship Grant, and scholarship and teaching awards. She presently teaches at Penn State Erie.