Like the mines and miners he writes about, Damian Dressick's first novel could probably best be described as “gritty.”
The novel, 40 Patchtown, is set in and around the Windber area. Its inspiration came from the 1922 coal strike and from stories relayed to the author by his grandfather. Although it bears little resemblance to the borough today, locals will readily identify locations and structures that are still standing.
The novel starts with a bang and doesn't let up. It follows the story of a 14-year-old miner, a “pollock,” whose future depends on fending off the “Eye-tailyan” scabs and the Pinkertons who are in Windber to break up a strike.
Dressick paints a brutal picture of a time when newspaper pages were cut to fit in worn-out shoes, children gathered coal left behind or dropped from loaded rail cars in an attempt to heat the family house, where a tent city was the place of last resort and where the moonshine business was alive and well.
The author graphically describes the very real struggle of immigrant workers trying to eke out an existence in a homeland that was not always welcoming.
The book can't be described as lighthearted, but it's good and the young author's tale would actually make an outstanding coming-of-age movie.
Dressick was born in this area and is now a professor at Clarion University where he teachers English and modern languages. He earned his master's degree in fiction writing from the University of Pittsburgh a doctorate in English from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Dressick is a Blue Mountain Residency Fellow and winner of the Harriette Arnow Award as well as the Jesse Stuart Prize.
He co-hosts WCONA: LIVE!, a virtual reading series that highlights some of the best Appalachian writers. His next book, Fables of Deconstruction, a collection of short stories, is scheduled for release this year.
40 Patchtown was published last year by Bottom Dog Press as part of its Appalachian Writing Series.
Dressick did extensive research for the book and it shows. His real-life experience while writing the book in Windber – which involved saving the manuscript from a burning house – is nearly as eventful as those in the book.
So, give 40 Patchtown a try. You can find it online at Books-A-Million, Barnes and Noble, Walmart and Amazon. 40 Patchtown is also now available for purchase at Chameleon Books in downtown Johnstown.
For more information on the author, go to www.damiandressick.com.