"Miracle Boy and Other Stories." By Pinckney Benedict. Press 53. 244 pages. $19.95.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Pinckney Benedict is finally back, and that's good news for his many fans.
His new short story collection, "Miracle Boy and Other Stories," is his first new book in 14 years. That's way too long a wait for those of us who enjoy his highly imaginative, almost surreal storytelling.
Benedict burst onto the literary scene in 1987 with the publication of "Town Smokes," a collection of short stories set in the rural West Virginia of his birth. The book drew widespread -- and enthusiastic -- notice from reviewers. The New York Times called it "an often heart-stopping literary performance" and "a fearsome debut."
Heady praise for a writer then only 23 years old.
Benedict, the son of Republican politico Cleve Benedict, grew up on the family farm in Greenbrier County. At Princeton University, he was a student in a class taught by famed writer Joyce Carol Oates, who was one of the first to recognize his budding talent. Graduating from Princeton, he enrolled in the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.
In 1992, the B. Dalton bookstore chain selected a second collection of Benedict's stories, "The Wrecking Yard," for its Discover Great New Writers program. Reviewing the collection for the Sunday Gazette-Mail, columnist Jim Dent wryly noted that Benedict populated his stories with "a gallery of redneck types who do violence or have it done to them -- sometimes both."
For his part, Benedict has said he is drawn to West Virginia characters because of "the fierce independence that you find in pretty much the whole state."