‘First Day of Winter’ by Breece D’J Pancake

Coal miners die with dusty lungs, flowers wilt in acid rains, and a writer, lost to us too early, stands here witness to the wreckage and depredation of industrial violence in the ‘chemical valley’. Set in the Appalachian coal country of West Virginia, the stories of Pancake—a small but scintillating oeuvre—is full of raw and throbbing prose, sentences teeming with feeling and tactility, and painful impressions of loss and decay. They constitute difficult material. ‘First Day of Winter’ is the last one in Pancake’s only collection, a deeply resonant and moving story of Hollis and his way of coming to terms with his ailing, aging parents.
I was pointed to the story by a friend in 2019, after a screening of Ellen Page’s heart-wrenching documentary There is Something in the Water (based on a book by the same name by Ingrid Waldron). I have since become interested in the ways we depict industrial wreckage and degradation, across all media.

First published in The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, Little, Brown, 1983

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