Most people have not heard of Breece Pancake. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound when he was twenty-six and The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, was published several years after his death. The Stories—violent, haunting, and heartbreakingly beautiful—inspired Kurt Vonnegut to write John Casey that “As for Breece D’J Pancake: I give you my word of honor that he is merely the best writer, the most sincere writer I’ve ever read. What I suspect is that it hurt too much, was no fun at all to be that good. You and I will never know.”
Karen Russell's collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove, her newest book after the 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist Swamplandia!, is a procession of unlikely scenarios. A vampire in the title story experiences immortality through the lens of an endless relationship with his wife; a young boy hoping to help his homesteading parents prove their claim on the land is met by a grimly familiar stranger; a massage therapist finds herself shifting a veteran's combat memories by manipulating his tattoos. Over and over again, Russell places her characters in contact with a literal manifestation of their fears, desires, and dreams. The internal is made external, the surreal imbued with the reality of sincere feeling.
In his first book of literary nonfiction, David McConnell's approach is effective because it's not academic: through extensive research, he's crafted engaging narratives, each populated by characters that demand our attention. We owe each killer the same care and consideration we afford the characters in our favorite novels, remembering that they are nothing if not reflections of ourselves, our culture.
The New Mind of the South is Tracy Thompson's ambitious sociological analysis of our mystifying region. While the title of the book consciously riffs on The Mind of the South, W.J. Cash's sanguine exercise in self-loathing, published in 1941 and still largely considered one of the more profound examinations of our regional attitude, Thompson's work does less to encapsulate a consciousness than examine facets of her biography against the drastically altered socioeconomic landscape of the South.
I write out of a greed for lives and language. A need to listen to the orchestra of living. It is often said that a writer is more alive than his peers. But I believe he might also be a sort of narcoleptic who requires constant waking up by his own imaginative work. He is closer to sleep and dream, and his memory is more haunted, thus more precise.