By T.J. TRANCHELL
Coeur Voice Writer
The beauty of craft breweries is in their local flavor. The same can be said of literary movements.
Southern Gothic has a certain cypress flavor. The “lost generation” expatriates are tinged with Continental sensibilities, and the early New England writers carried a distinctly Puritan aesthetic.
One would imagine that a Pacific Northwest literary movement would be like a craft brewery, but instead, Spokane writers Kate Lebo and Samuel Ligon have turned the Inland’s lit scene toward hard alcohol and pastries.
In their anthology “Pie & Whiskey,” Lebo and Ligon have compiled work from many of the top writers in poetry and prose from the region. As they write in the introduction, most of the book’s selections are from five years of “Pie & Whiskey” readings in Spokane and Missoula, each meant to be read aloud in about five minutes and using the titular food and beverage as a prompt.
Running jokes abound, particularly in the whiskey recipes that close each section. Readers also soon discover how often whiskey and pie lead to more intimate situations.
This book easily could have been called “The Inland Northwest All-Stars of Literature” and no one would bat an eye, except that it isn’t that pretentious. The stories are grounded in an everyday worldliness that shrugs off any sense of grandeur.
The credentials of the writers, however, are hard to dispute: Anthony Doerr (Boise); Robert Wrigley, Kim Barnes and Alexandra Teague (Moscow); Maya Jewell Zeller (Ellensburg); and the contingent of Spokane writers includes the editors, Shawn Vestal, Jacob H. Fries, Jesse Walter, and Tod Marshall who all help give the book credence as well as establish just how important this area is becoming to literature throughout the country.
Wrigley opens the book with the aptly titled poem “Pie and Whiskey.” The set-up for the rest of the book is here. It is a list of whiskey and pie variations, as well as an invitation.
“That all may eat, drink, and even more, tonight,” Wrigley writes.
Co-editor Lebo serves up perhaps the ultimate slice of Americana in her essay “My House is Your American Gothic House.” The piece has her visiting a woman who has leased the small home in Grant Wood’s iconic rural painting. They make pie and discuss how the leasee doesn’t have to let anyone inside the house but “she must be friendly.”
With such a vast array of writers, one would expect to dislike at least one or two selections. This doesn’t happen here. Every piece is likable, even ones such as Walter’s “Whiskey Pie” in which we are given a handful of unlikable people. And just when the running gags start to get tiresome, they change, or are discarded.
Elissa Washuta, who now teaches at Ohio State University, writes about online dating but perhaps sums up this book best. In “Congratulations! You Have a New Match,” she writes, “What’s your fantasy?
“Growing old, but never up. Dream big. Work hard. Die living.”
It’s taken years of hard work for this big dream to grow old. These writers—and the generations of Inland Northwest writers they are teaching and inspiring—will keep it living for as long as possible.
Or, at least until the whiskey and pie finally run out. “Pie & Whiskey,” edited by Kate Lebo and Samuel Ligon.
272 pages, Sasquatch Books.
Four-and-a-half stars out of five