They say not to judge a book by its cover, but we all do. And why not? What else do we have to go by? I’d heard about Breece D’J Pancake’s stories for years, but didn’t read one till last week. He’s one of those legendary cult writers, more influential than known, his stature and mystery ballooning after an early suicide.

I avoided reading him all this time because of that name. Seems like a put-on. Turns out only the D’J is made up, the result of a misprint of his two middle names, Dexter John. He didn’t correct it, but kept it instead. I wonder why. Maybe he thought it made him sound more strange or mysterious. What it did for me is to keep me from reading his stories.

Whatever I imagined a person with a phony name would write is not what I found. His sense of place and language is so precise. His people are farmers and miners and deckhands. Their days are spent dreaming of escape, but not having the means or know-how to achieving it. They’re mournful stories, but neither maudlin, nor self-pitying.

He has a story about a hunt, in which parts are told from the animals’ point of view, but he somehow avoids all the landmines this literary trope comes saddled with. No cutesy talking Disney critters, just matter-of-fact rendering of landscape and conditions from ground level.

I’m grateful I got past my prejudice and thank Mr. & Mrs. Pancake for making such a beautiful flapjack, er, writer.