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Strange as This Weather Has Been: A Novel Paperback – September 28, 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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. (Oct.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* With her beloved West Virginia hollows and valleys under constant onslaught by a savage coal-mining industry whose raping of the land threatens her home with devastating floods, Lace Ricker finds herself battling callous forces both without and within her own family. As thunderous blasts weaken their home's foundation and poisoned wastewater infiltrates their well, Lace and her daughter, Bant, secretly become more determined to find a way to stop the mines, while Lace's husband pragmatically refuses to fight the union bosses, and her sons tentatively, then calamitously, accept the challenges and adventure of life lived in the shadow of imminent danger. By tracing the devastating impact of coal mining through the eyes of Lace and her four children, Pancake's powerful debut novel evinces a poetic pathos and authentic respect for the land and the people who love it. To comprehend the egregious and tragic environmental damage mountaintop-removal coal mining has wrought on the once pristine vistas of Appalachia, one should read any one of many excellent exposés. To understand the human toll such destruction exacts, one must turn to fiction, for novels such as Pancake's reflect deeper, timeless truths. Haggas, Carol
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Shoemaker & Hoard (September 28, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159376166X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593761660
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #150,062 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a delicately told story of a working class family and their very real struggle between making a living and the destruction of the land they love. This novel stirred me on so many levels: the personal stories of working class people, the stories of how families cope, the environmental and economic conflicts related to the practice of mountain top removal. Long after I finished reading this book, I still find myself thinking about aspects of the novel. Pancake's prose is honest, spare, and unsentimental. I recommend this book.
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In The Jungle: The Uncensored Original Edition, Upton Sinclair portrayed the horrors of the meat processing industry; readers were shocked and indignant. Reforms soon followed. One can only hope that Pancake's current book has an equal impact on her readers. Her new novel reminds us that West Virginia has a long history of wealthy industry moguls stripping the state of its natural resources and leaving the population with little to show for their hard work. In the early 20th Century, the people of Southern West Virginia bravely stood up for their rights during the Coal Mine Wars. A good expose for that history can be found in the movie, Matewan.

Ann Pancake's book fast forwards to the beginning of the 21st Century where West Virginians are again facing grave threats to their heritage, their lands, and their lives. Pancake tells us in her book how the land AND the people are used up and discarded. Mountain-top Removal mining is destroying one of America's greatest natural assets for short-term gain by a few individuals. The land left behind is ruined and sometimes toxic. The lives of the people who live there are often ruined as well. The mountains are leveled. The valleys, the hollows, and the streams are filled with debris and lost. People who have lived on the land for generations are displaced with no home to re-visit; their homes and their beloved mountains are gone. As Americans we are all diminished.

To be clear, this is NOT just an expose on Mountain Top Removal Mining. As a novel it is quite enjoyable and well-crafted.
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Format: Paperback
This novel relays in story form lives lived in the hollars below a form of coal "mining" called by many Mountain Top Removal. What is happening in these communities is real. The cost on lives, land, and streams is high. Pancake's Strange as This Weather Has Been: A Novel helps bring this home for all of us.
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Format: Paperback
If you weren't already convinced that strip mining is evil thus novel won't convince you. Pancake only glosses over the reasons why even in West Virginia, ground zero of this devastation, voters lean or push Republican. The real problem is that the author loses track of her story, and so the extended chapters on Dane and Corey, neither of whom have anything to do with the environmental and financial catastrophes, neither further the plot nor add to our appreciation of the family. Bant gets involved with a scab - why? does it matter that RL was helping to break the union, or would the story for Bant have been the same had he been a shop steward? Was the problem between Lace and Jimmy that he was shallow and she was "thoughtful"? that she was tied to the land and he wasn't? His offer to his children to leave Lace and WV to join him in North Carolina was never examined; it's affect on the children's mother never even mentioned. That the book ends with a coincidence that could not possible have happened in real life only adds to the discomfort that this was not art but polemic. And I say this as one who is totally opposed to strip mining. It must also be said that while there is no harm in honoring Faulkner - there are few better inspirations - throwing in a challenged child (with a very sketchily described challenge) without making him part of the life of the book, as Faulkner did, fails. By far the best chapter is Avery's, who is only allowed to speak once. All in all, a book that deserved a better editor who insisted on a few significant rewrites, so that its emotional landscape had the same depths as the slurry ponds dotting the natural landscape. Ultimately a big disappointment.
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Format: Paperback
This novel was amazing. I could not put it down once I started. The prose-incredible! And the subject matter is so important, regardless of where you are from, it will touch you.
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Novels don't get much better than this one. It has what every unforgettable one should have: plot, characterization, language, history and, most of all, it has purpose. Even if you are not from Appalachia or truly familiar will the evils of mining and mountaintop removal, in particular, this story will raise your level of feelings a number of degrees. In my humble view, not since James Still has anyone written about Appalachia with the knowledge and emotion as has Ann Pancake. I finished the book a week or so ago and still can't get it out of my thoughts, nor do I believe I ever will and can barely wait to recommend it to family and friends; and Lace's last chapter, well, it measures up to any chapter on family I have ever read anywhere.. Yes, I am from W. Pennsylvania and sympathize with the culture and the cause, but first and foremost I RECOMMEND you read this book for its prose and its ultimate quality as contemporary literature of the very finest you will read.
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