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Knockemstiffby Donald Ray Pollock
"My father showed me how to hurt a man one August night at the Torch Drive-in when I was seven years old. It was the only thing he was ever any good at." With this opening line, Pollock never looks back or lets up in a debut collection of short stories based in his aptly named hometown of Knockemstiff, Ohio. (And yes, it is a real place.)
"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.)
"Knockemstiff is a powerful, remarkable, exceptional book....Pollock knows these people, what they want and think and feel, and he takes us there without flinching." Los Angeles Times
"These are absorbing stories that linger and haunt. They crept up on me, leaving me breathless and shaken." The Oregonian
"Startling, bleak, uncompromising and funny....This is as raw as American fiction gets. It is an unforgettable experience." San Francisco Chronicle
"More engaging than any new fiction in years....Knockemstiff gives us the impossible — fast, funny stories about the saddest people you'll ever meet in fiction." Chuck Palahniuk
"[Donald Ray Pollock] could be the next important voice in American fiction." Wall Street Journal
"Profanely comic....Pollock's tales are spiked with a lurid panache that handily earns its own literary genre: Southern Ohio Gothic." Elle
"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, author of Geek Love
"A debut collection of terrifying, darkly funny stories concerning the drug-addled, beaten-down inhabitants of a southern Ohio holler called Knockemstiff....Pollock grabs by the throat and doesn't let go." Kirkus
"[I]n spare, graphic prose reminiscent of Raymond Carver and Cormac McCarthy, [Pollock] portrays his characters with wit and empathy. This powerful collection may be an uncomfortable read, but it's worth every second." Bookmarks
"Pollock doesn’t so much push the envelope as incinerate it, but his potent narrative gifts (and pitch-black humor) make it impossible to look away from the flames." The Washington Post
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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