Justin Taylor at Bookforum:
Pancake’s depictions of the culture and geography of Appalachia and the Trans-Allegheny were all but unprecedented. The hills and hollows of West Virginia were largely neglected in American literature, even the intensely regionalist literatures of the South, possibly because West Virginia had fought with the Union during the Civil War, and so had little to contribute to the revisionist horseshit of Lost Cause sentimentality. Pancake seems to know everything about this place, from its hilltops to its coal mines to its barrooms, and he has an eye for the small, sharp details that bring it to life. In “Hollow,” when Buddy wakes up on the floor of his trailer after a night of drinking and brawling, there is “a little ball of rayon batting against his nostril as he breathed.” Bo, in “Fox Hunters,” “stepped onto the pavement feeling tired and moved a few paces until headlights flooded his path, showing up the highway steam and making the road give birth to little ghosts beneath his feet.” At the same time, Pancake is always attentive to the natural world. He finds a kind of holiness in the history-dwarfing scale of geologic time.