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1 Burnside Literature- A to Z

Knockemstiff

by

Knockemstiff Cover

 

Staff Pick

This book, and its writer, came out of nowhere and knocked me square in the throat. You could see Knockemstiff as a dark, demented updating of Winesburg, Ohio, or you could simply notice it as the work of a new American master. Pollock goes where many authors would fear to, and he somehow does it with both an aggressive style and surprising empathy.
Recommended by Kevin Sampsell, Powells.com

Review-A-Day

"The stories in Knockemstiff depict some of the most heartbreakingly original characters and situations of recent memory....Pollock's writing doesn't just hook you; he grabs you by the throat." Gerry Donaghy, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

In this unforgettable work of fiction, Donald Ray Pollock peers into the soul of a tough Midwestern American town to reveal the sad, stunted but resilient lives of its residents.

Spanning a period from the mid-sixties to the late nineties, the linked stories that comprise Knockemstiff feature a cast of recurring characters who are woebegone, baffled and depraved — but irresistibly, undeniably real. Rendered in the American vernacular with vivid imagery and a wry, dark sense of humor, these thwarted and sometimes violent lives jump off the page at the reader with inexorable force. A father pumps his son full of steroids so he can vicariously relive his days as a perpetual runner-up body builder. A psychotic rural recluse comes upon two siblings committing incest and feels compelled to take action. Donald Ray Pollock presents his characters and the sordid goings-on with a stern intelligence, a bracing absence of value judgments, and a refreshingly dark sense of bottom-dog humor.

With an artistic instinct honed on the works of Flannery O'Connor and Harry Crews, Pollock offers a powerful work of fiction in the classic American vein. Knockemstiff is a genuine entry into the literature of place.

Review:

"A native of Knockemstiff, Ohio, Pollock delivers poignant and raunchy accounts of his hometown's sad and stagnant residents in his debut story collection that may remind readers of its thematic grand-daddy, Winesburg, Ohio. The works span 50 years of violence, failure, lust and depravity, featuring characters like Jake, an abandoned hermit who dodges the draft during WWII, lives in a bus and discovers two young siblings committing incest on the bank of a creek, and Bobby, a recovering alcoholic who must face the imminent death of his abusive father. The language and imagery of the novel are shockingly direct in detailing the pitiful lives of drug abusers, perverts and a forgotten population that just isn't "much welcome nowhere in the world." Many of the characters appear in more than one story, providing a gritty depth to the whole, but the character that stands out the most is the town, as dismal and hopeless as the locals. Pollock is intimate with the grimy aspects of a small town (especially one named after a fistfight) full of poor, uneducated people without futures or knowledge of any other way to live. The most startling thing about these stories is they have an aura of truth." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"This electrifying collection of linked stories uses the voices of the rural hamlet of Knockemstiff to create a coherent world of echoing themes and recurring characters that has the drive and impact of a fine novel. Pollock brings grace and precision to colloquial language, and the ferocious integrity of his vision is flat-out stunning. Pollock grapples with savagery and reveals primal tenderness. After every story in Knockemstiff I had to take a walk and let my head cool down. I keep reaching for some other writer to compare him with — maybe a Raymond Carver with hope and vitality, or a godless Flannery O'Connor — but Pollock is no shadow of anybody else. This is a powerful talent at work." Katherine Dunn

Review:

"Pollock grabs by the throat and doesn't let go." Kirkus Reviews

Synopsis:

The stories in this collection feature a cast of recurring characters who are woebegone, baffled, and depraved — but irresistibly, undeniably real. With artistic sensibilities reminiscent of Flannery O'Connor, Pollock offers a powerful work of fiction in the classic American vein.

About the Author

Donald Ray Pollock grew up in Knockemstiff, Ohio. He dropped out of high school to work in a meatpacking plant and then spent over thirty years employed in a paper mill in southern Ohio. Currently, he is a graduate student in the MFA program at Ohio State University. His stories have appeared in the Berkeley Fiction Review, the Journal, Third Coast, Chiron Review, Sou'wester, Boulevard, and Folio, and he has contributed essays on politics to the op-ed page of the New York Times.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 4 comments:

lindsey beadle, August 29, 2009 (view all comments by lindsey beadle)
Maybe I'll come back to this one when my newborn little girl is a little older. I'm gonna call this review bad timing. I will say this: well written. Interesting (sort of shocking at times). Funny in a weird way. Just a little harsh. If you're thinking about reading this book, read the first few chapters in the book and be comfortable about brothers and sisters doing each other.
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(4 of 9 readers found this comment helpful)
Grady Harp, April 10, 2008 (view all comments by Grady Harp)
The Bruised, Vulnerable, Ill-Starred Inhabitants of Knockemstiff, Ohio

Donald Ray Pollock is talented. His style of writing is one that feels like spontaneous impressions of a tribal people from which he takes the reader by the collar and spins wild tales, all the while making us believe each of his weirdly comic/tragic characters actually exists. Pollock's vantage is not unlike the gopher who happens to burrow up into a strange neighborhood, glances about is total disbelief, then scurries back down in wonder about the current state of the world: the mound he leaves behind is this highly entertaining book.

Though Knockemstiff is an actual place in the remnants of a once settled and civilized Ohio, Pollock uses the place as the matrix from which he devises some of the strangest stories in literature. Though the book is a collection of short stories, Pollock ties some of the characters together in different stories giving the reader the idea that the number of creatures who populate this degenerate town are so few that they must serve as actors more than once. These people are often disabled by drugs, alcohol, physical abnormalities, mental derangements, or the products of barely together couplings that mutually drive partners into bizarre behaviors.

Pollock can create suggestive sexual scenes only to remind the reader with the use of brittle descriptions that the surroundings are peppered with detritus, enough to keep the lights on. Each of the aimlessly unhappy folks we encounter retains an edge of humor (despite some impressively dour physical attributes) and that is in the end what keeps the reader engaged. To retain interest in these folks through eighteen varied (but not dissimilar) stories Pollock is forced to occasionally rely on fantasy episodes out of town, but he deftly keeps his characters in the dirt/mud/snow of Knockemstiff in a manner that keeps the thwarted dreams grounded.

Pollock uses a language that is rich and colorful, and even while his characters seem to be disengaged from a happy life, he manages to take some flights into the beauty of nature - yes, even in Knockemstiff, Ohio the land can be beautiful. The stories he has written can be read quickly, but the metaphors each carry need some time to absorb. There is a little of each of us somewhere in Knockemstiff, whether we admit it or not. For a first novel, this is a winner! Daniel Ray Pollock IS talented.

Grady Harp
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(16 of 26 readers found this comment helpful)
Clark, March 24, 2008 (view all comments by Clark)
Knockemstiff is one of the best books that I have ever read, period. These shocking stories follow right after each other, never giving the reader a chance to catch his or her breath. I read this entire novel in one sitting because I just did not want to stop. Knockemstiff is that good, well worth your money and time. The future is bright for Donald Ray Pollock. Pollock has joined my small list of favorite authors. A+ for Knockemstiff.
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(17 of 37 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780385523820
Author:
Pollock, Donald Ray
Publisher:
Doubleday Books
Subject:
Short Stories (single author)
Subject:
Social life and customs
Subject:
Knockemstiff (Ohio)
Subject:
Knockemstiff (Ohio) - Social life and customs
Subject:
General Fiction
Copyright:
Publication Date:
March 2008
Binding:
Hardcover
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
206
Dimensions:
8.54x5.86x.75 in. .79 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Knockemstiff Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$11.95 In Stock
Product details 206 pages Doubleday Books - English 9780385523820 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

This book, and its writer, came out of nowhere and knocked me square in the throat. You could see Knockemstiff as a dark, demented updating of Winesburg, Ohio, or you could simply notice it as the work of a new American master. Pollock goes where many authors would fear to, and he somehow does it with both an aggressive style and surprising empathy.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "A native of Knockemstiff, Ohio, Pollock delivers poignant and raunchy accounts of his hometown's sad and stagnant residents in his debut story collection that may remind readers of its thematic grand-daddy, Winesburg, Ohio. The works span 50 years of violence, failure, lust and depravity, featuring characters like Jake, an abandoned hermit who dodges the draft during WWII, lives in a bus and discovers two young siblings committing incest on the bank of a creek, and Bobby, a recovering alcoholic who must face the imminent death of his abusive father. The language and imagery of the novel are shockingly direct in detailing the pitiful lives of drug abusers, perverts and a forgotten population that just isn't "much welcome nowhere in the world." Many of the characters appear in more than one story, providing a gritty depth to the whole, but the character that stands out the most is the town, as dismal and hopeless as the locals. Pollock is intimate with the grimy aspects of a small town (especially one named after a fistfight) full of poor, uneducated people without futures or knowledge of any other way to live. The most startling thing about these stories is they have an aura of truth." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "The stories in Knockemstiff depict some of the most heartbreakingly original characters and situations of recent memory....Pollock's writing doesn't just hook you; he grabs you by the throat." (read the entire Powells.com review)
"Review" by , "This electrifying collection of linked stories uses the voices of the rural hamlet of Knockemstiff to create a coherent world of echoing themes and recurring characters that has the drive and impact of a fine novel. Pollock brings grace and precision to colloquial language, and the ferocious integrity of his vision is flat-out stunning. Pollock grapples with savagery and reveals primal tenderness. After every story in Knockemstiff I had to take a walk and let my head cool down. I keep reaching for some other writer to compare him with — maybe a Raymond Carver with hope and vitality, or a godless Flannery O'Connor — but Pollock is no shadow of anybody else. This is a powerful talent at work."
"Review" by , "Pollock grabs by the throat and doesn't let go."
"Synopsis" by , The stories in this collection feature a cast of recurring characters who are woebegone, baffled, and depraved — but irresistibly, undeniably real. With artistic sensibilities reminiscent of Flannery O'Connor, Pollock offers a powerful work of fiction in the classic American vein.
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