Pinckney Benedict’s Miracle Boy & Other Stories
Full disclosure: Pinckney Benedict was an instructor of mine in the Queens University MFA program, and he was one of my thesis readers.
Fuller disclosure: Pinckney Benedict edited the anthology in which my first ever published work appeared, Surreal South.
Fullest disclosure: I love Pinckney Benedict.
Pinckney’s newest book is a collection of short stories, put out by the fabulous independent publisher Press 53, called Miracle Boy and Other Stories. There is already some great discussion of several of the stories, most notably the title story, on several lit blogs.
These are good stories. Some of them are great stories. “Pig Helmet and the Wall of Life” will forever be one of my favorite pieces of short fiction. It has a rhythm and an impenetrable mystery that pulls you headlong into itself. Check out that link, read the full text, and see if you don’t become a believer.
Pinckney’s stories resonate. They’re chock-full of the mythological, the theological, the fantastical. They’re also chock-full of animals: lots of cattle, sheep, fighting dogs, feral dogs, puppy dogs, gamecocks, turkey vultures, crows, miniature horses. There are a couple of aviators (one of the aviator stories, “Joe Messinger is Dreaming,” is incredibly and beautifully written) and lots of farm boys. Pinckney’s heart lives in the West Virginia dairy country, but his imagination is boundless.
As Kyle Minor says:
How does the maker of the well-made, close-to-the-earth domestic-ish Appalachian stories in Town Smokes morph into the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink crazy man we see here — some kind of latter-day Chaucer-meets-Gogol-meets-Donne-meets-Ray Bradbury-meets-Albert Goldbarth somewhere in the back corner of the library, where Jim Shepard is crouched empathetically over his history books and Nabokov runs his magnifying glass over his butterfly collection?
Pinckney loves to talk about apocalypse in fiction: at the end of the story, for one of those characters (or perhaps for the reader? or both?), the world should have come undone and been remade into a new reality. Sometimes it’s a dark place (like in “Mudman” and “The Beginnings of Sorrow”). Sometimes it’s a beautiful place.
The prose is always beautiful. Here’s a lovely passage from “Mercy”:
We were angus farmers. Magnificent deep-fleshed black angus. In the field behind us, a dozen of our market steers roamed past my old man and me in a lopsided wedge, cropping the sweet grass. They ate constantly, putting on a pound, two pounds a day. All together like that, they made a sound like a steam locomotive at rest in the station, a deep resonant sighing. Their rough hides gleamed obsidian in the afternoon sun, and their hooves might have been fashioned out of pig iron.
And how could I leave out “Zog-19: A Scientific Romance”? This story sparkles. You can see the delight that Pinckney took in writing it, and it’s a pleasure to read. Here’s a snippet:
On Zog-19’s planet, no one communicates by talking. All of Zog-19’s people are equipped with powerful steam whistles. Well, not steam whistles exactly, because they sound using sentient gases rather than steam. The Zogs use their whistles to talk back and forth, using a system not unlike Morse code. On Zog-19’s planet, “Toot too” means “Don’t worry.” It also means “I love you” and “Everything is A-okay, everything is just peachy keen.”
My regular readers (do you exist?) know that I love stories that do something a little different, that are more than just rehashing Freytag’s pyramid. “Zog-19” does that in a beautiful way, but so do many of Pinckney’s other stories; the “resolution,” that bit where everything is supposed to be wrapped up nicely in colored paper and tied with a string, is just a touch off-kilter. It’s a negative space — and Pinckney rides it deftly.
Toot toot, Pinckney.