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Knockemstiffby Donald Ray Pollock
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.
"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
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.
"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.)
"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
"Pollock grabs by the throat and doesn't let go." Kirkus Reviews
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.
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