Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pancake Work Sparks Concern: December 2010 Meeting Report

Our December 5 meeting was facilitated by member Joy Pardue. Here is her summary of the group's thoughts on Ann Pancake's Strange As This Weather Has Been.

The afternoon was cool with blustery winds. A cozy fire in a room full of books provided a great setting for our discussion.

Diane had printed out some of her thoughts which gave us a good starting place. She commented that before she began reading the book, she flipped through looking for chapter titles and was perplexed to find only "short single-word titles that were no help at all." After reading a few chapters, she realized these were the names of the characters and each chapter was devoted to that particular character. She thought it was difficult to read many of the characters because of the stream-of-consciousness style...and the "Appalachianization' of the speech and thought." Others agreed that phrases and phrasing were sometimes awkward.

Generally, however, we all agreed that this style was quite effective. Cheryl was the first to comment that switching back and forth among the characters lessened the impact of their wretched experiences. Had this story been told in chronological order and/or without a change in perspective, it would have been 'too much' to absorb. Even so Pancake addressed the ever-present disasters in almost every chapter - through memories, daily life and fears about the future.

Descriptions of the natural beauty of the mountains surrounding this community were woven into the story alongside descriptions of the 'slaughter' and devastation of the land. Pancake highlighted this love of place through several characters in particular: Lace's mother, Lace, Bant (her daughter) and Mogey. Through her excellent passages describing the wondrous enchantment of the mountains and the inhabitants’ reverence for their home, the author indirectly addressed the question "why couldn't/didn't they just leave."

Throughout the book, those closely connected since birth answered this question in various ways. Mogey's (Lace's uncle) musings were eloquent and stirring. One passage, based on an experience he'd had at age 10, seems worthy of re-reading:

"Somehow a rock fall had come and made like this room...I stepped into that
little room...something layered down over my self...the feel of a warm bath with
current in it, a mild electric...once it had currented all the way through me
and reached my very ends, it kept on going. It blended me right on out into the
woods...took me beyond myself...I saw then how before I'd been hidden, how I'd
believed myself smaller than I really was. It made me feel bigger in
myself...and it made me feel more here.... And with it came total sureness. And
with the total sureness came peace."
Understandably, several members agreed this chapter was the best of the book.

In another reference as to why so few bring themselves to leave, Bant condensed the dilemma of her parents nicely. "

Bottom line never changed. Lace wanted to stay even though she was convinced
we'd be washed out. Jimmy Make wanted to leave though he didn't think it would
ever get as bad as Lace thought."

Having grown up in a coal-mining community, Jennifer clarified some of the terms pertaining to the mines and filled in details about the mining process. She also commented on the social structure and mores in her community in particular. Even now, not many youngsters are able to find new pathways into life.

By the time we concluded the meeting, everyone expressed an interest in making a field trip to a mountain-top-removal site and agreed to try to make this happen. Jennifer pointed out we'd never get into an area being actively mined; instead we'd likely see a 'restored' mountain. Not a one of us believe we'll see something better - or even as good as – nature’s creation.

Much has been written revealing the exploitation of the land and the people living where coal is to be found - most of it heart-rending. Tragically, events such as these have been occurring in Appalachia for more than a century and are on-going here in WV and in many other coal communities on the planet. We wondered 'how might we help?' and the consensus is that helping individuals or families would be the most effective approach. Clearly, this book touched our hearts and gave us much to think about.

No comments:

Post a Comment