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Knockemstiff

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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.

206 pages, Hardcover

First published March 18, 2008

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About the author

Donald Ray Pollock

22 books1,848 followers
Donald Ray Pollock was born in 1954 and grew up in southern Ohio, in a holler named Knockemstiff. He dropped out of high school at seventeen to work in a meatpacking plant, and then spent thirty-two years employed in a paper mill in Chillicothe, Ohio. He graduated from the MFA program at Ohio State University in 2009, and still lives in Chillicothe with his wife, Patsy. His first book, Knockemstiff, won the 2009 PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Third Coast, The Journal, Sou’wester, Chiron Review, River Styx, Boulevard, Folio, Granta, NYTBR, Washington Square, and The Berkeley Fiction Review. The Devil All the Time is his first novel.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,211 reviews
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11k followers
May 3, 2012
Here's a Life Coaching tip:
 
If you're given the choice between living in Knockemstiff, Ohio, or having your naughty bits gnawed to shreds by a ravenous honey badger
honeybadger
…the correct selection is B.
 
This is my first experience with Donald Ray Pollock experience, and I'm already a devout admirer of his talent as a storyteller. This is terrific stuff...but, ho doggie, can this man write himself into your happy zone and shit bleak all over it. Seriously, Knockemstiff is unrelentingly grim. The setting, the people, the stories described by Pollock are so depressed, so downtrodden, and so hopelessly trapped in a cycle of economic hardship and misery that reading this can truly mess with your wellbeing.

However, despite the unpleasantness, this is just wonderful.
 
What makes this work so powerful is that Pollock completely eschews melodrama. His characters, beyond a few passing thoughts, rarely reflect upon the disconsolate nature of their existence. To them, this is life, and we, as readers, are just catching snapshots of the endless cavalcade of setbacks, heartaches and generational misfortune that make up the detritus of their existence.  
 
Pollock writes with painful authenticity, and his stories, while never reaching for the cheap payoff, will linger and stain you with the casual, brutality that he describes. His characters and dialogue ring true and he saturates his stories with the sights, sounds and smells of Knockemstiff.

He takes you there...even when you don't really want to go. 
 
PLOT SUMMARY:
 
There are 18 stories in this collection, all semi-linked to one another, and each focusing on ignorance, intolerance, drug addiction, or some other dark, violent aspect of rural life. Rather than briefly describe each story, some of which would be hard to do without spoilers, I thought I would just touch on a few of my favorites to give you a sense of the material.

Beginning with the first story, Real Life, in which a violent incident at a drive in movie begins the gradual transformation of a sensitive, caring young boy, into the image of his abusive, alcoholic father. Told simply, eloquently, and without emotional emphasis, Pollock sets the stage for the entire collection with the opening of this story,"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 good at." From there, I was hooked. 

Another memorable piece was Dynamite Hole, which I thought was the darkest story in the collection (man is that saying something). Here's how Pollock, who has a knack for grabbing the reader with his initial paragraph, opens this little ditty:
I was coming down off the Mitchell Flats with three arrowheads in my pocket and a dead copperhead hung around my neck like an old woman's scarf when I caught a boy named Truman Mackey fucking his own little sister in the Dynamite Hole.
From there, it gets disturbing as our narrator...well, you'll see. The story is all the more unsettling because Pollock delivers it with such casualness. 

Schott's Bridge may be my favorite of the lot. A powerful, brutally poignant story about how horrendously unlucky it is to be gay in Knockemstiff. Unbelievable loneliness transformed into unendurable desolation by a truly despicable action of savagery. The way Pollock ended this story was masterful. 

Other stories deal with OxyContin addiction, massive steroid use, rape, incest, murder, and random acts of nastiness.

THOUGHTS:

Pollock's stories haunt...they linger...they stain.

I suspect I will be thinking, recalling, waking up in a cold sweat screaming about moments from Knockemstiff for a long time to come. The topics addressed within are among the worst of the worst that community life has to offer, but to his enormous credit, Pollock avoids gratuitousness throughout. His stories need no gimmickry to devastate you.

Pollock's voice is unique, and I was very impressed by this collection. If you haven't read him yet, you really should.

4.0 to 4.5 stars. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION. 
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,930 reviews10.6k followers
June 15, 2012
Knockemstiff is a collection of 18 short stories set in Knockemstiff, Ohio.

Reviewing a book of short stories is a tricky business, especially if you haven't been reviewing them as you go. Furthermore, I'm not a huge short story fan so I don't read collections unless one comes along that will knock my pants off and sell them to the highest bidder before I get a chance to put them back on. Knockemstiff is that short story collection.

Eighteen stories of redneckery most foul are contained in this book. Some are funny, some are sad, all are powerful. Even the funnier stories have a sad undercurrent to them, like the citizens of Knockemstiff know they don't have much of a chance.

The tales are connected by common characters and the setting. Donald Ray Pollock paints a bleak picture of life in a tiny redneck town, though it isn't totally devoid of happiness. As for the tales themselves, I can't even begin to narrow down which one is my favorite. It's not every day you read a short story collection that features washed up bodybuilders, drug dealers, and a kid that gets caught having sex with his sister's doll in the outhouse.

To be honest, I was picturing Knockemstiff to have a feel akin to Winter's Bone. Instead, it reminds of Joe Lansdale's Texas tales. Since Pollock named the bar owner Hap Collins, I doubt the resemblance is completely unintentional.

I can't recommend this book enough. This is one of the easiest five stars I've ever awarded.
Profile Image for Francesc.
393 reviews193 followers
July 22, 2021
Cuando acabas de leer "Knockemstiff", lo primero que se te ocurre es dar gracias por tener una vida "normal" o, mejor dicho, dar gracias por tener una vida a secas.
Porque este libro es desgarrador, es pura desesperanza. Sólo en el último relato Donald Ray Pollock se permite el lujo de mostrarnos un pequeño rayo de luz al final del túnel. Muy pequeño, pero te da para acabar con cierto buen sabor de boca.
Hasta ese relato, nada, pero nada de nada.
Las historias que se narran son durísimas, sobre todo por el tema de las drogas y el alcohol. Las drogas no son las culpables de todos los males en este libro, pero siempre están por allí, destrozando cualquier tipo de esperanza.

Donald Ray Pollock escribe extraordinariamente bien, extraordinariamente sencillo y extraordinariamente crudo. Combina a la perfección las historias duras con una escritura seca y con un lenguaje acorde a los personajes.

Aviso: No es apto para corazones sensibles a la miseria humana.


When you have just read "Knockemstiff", the first thing that comes to mind is to thank you for having a "normal" life, or rather, to thank you for having a life.

Because this book is heartbreaking, it is pure hopelessness. Only in the last story, Donald Ray Pollock affords himself a small ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Very small, but gives you to finish with some good taste in the mouth.

Until that story, nothing, but nothing.

The stories that are told are hard, especially about drugs and alcohol. Drugs are not to blame for all the evils in this book, but they are always out there, destroying any kind of hope.

Donald Ray Pollock writes extraordinarily well, extraordinarily simple and extraordinarily raw. He perfectly combines hard stories with dry writing and a language that fits with the characters.

Warning: not suitable for hearts sensitive to human misery.
Profile Image for karen.
3,979 reviews170k followers
June 5, 2020
...i'm beginning to believe that anything i do to extend my life is just going to be outweighed by the agony of living it

i'm pretty sure i can't say anything better to sum up the collection, so for once, i am going to keep it short. very enjoyable short stories - occasionally gratuitous, not as good as The Devil All the Time, but still tremendous.

some things deserve the short-and-sweet treatment.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,828 followers
March 2, 2012
I don’t know if I should consider this redneck noir or hick lit, but I like it.

Per his bio, Donald Ray Pollock actually grew up in a tiny town called Knockemstiff in southern Ohio, and he spent over thirty years working in a paper mill. It shows in the collection of short stories that are such authentic and gritty portrayals of rural poverty that you’ll feel like you just moved into a double wide with only a garbage bag full of dirty clothes and a case of warm Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Each one of these are stories are about damaged, desperate people stuck so solidly in their small shabby lives that even dreaming about doing better seems beyond them. Centered around the holler of Knockemstiff and ranging from the sixties to the modern day with recurring characters, Pollack develops each tale into it’s own small tragedy. Shifting from moments of stark violence to quiet emotional desolation, this is a powerful depiction of the Americanus Redneckius in one of its natural habitats.
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews672 followers
April 24, 2021
Oh, man.  This is harsh stuff.  Dark and depraved, full of backward thinking individuals.  From blithering idiots to full-fledged immoral jerks to world weary knocked around mamas, you are apt to run into some of each in Knockemstiff, Ohio.  An elderly waitress with scrambled eyes, a man who loses his mind when it rains, druggies at every turn, and not a one who believes anything is going to change.  They are all stuck, right there "with the devil way down in the hole" (taking this phrase from the theme music for The Wire).     

I loved this author's novels The Devil All the Time and The Heavenly Table.  The short stories in Knockemstiff have me searching for the brain bleach.  My compliments to the author for making it seem all too real.
Profile Image for HaMiT.
166 reviews29 followers
May 24, 2021
پولاک سه تا کتاب داره و هر سه تاش رو هم خانم عسکری ترجمه کرده و توسط نشر نگاه چاپ شده. من تصمیم گرفتم قبل از اینکه سراغ دوتا داستان بلندش برم، برای دست‌گرمی اول این کتاب رو بخونم که مجموعه‌ای 18 تا داستان کوتاهه
برخلاف استیون کینگ که مکان خیلی از داستان‌هاش تو شهرهای ساختگی ولی توی دنیای واقعیه، داستان‌های پولاک توی شهر ناکمستیف رخ می‌ده. یه شهر کوچیک واقع در جنوب اوهایو که محل تولد نویسنده هم هست و تا حدود 50 سالگی همون‌جا زندگی کرده و توی کارخونه‌ی کاغذسازی کار می‌کرده

این 18 تا داستان کوتاه توی دوره‌های زمانی مختلف روایت می‌شن و بعضی از شخصیت‌هاش توی چندتا داستان حضور پیدا می‌کنن
چیزی در مورد این داستان‌ها هست اینه که واقعاً سیاه و تلخن و نویسنده اصلاً مراعات سرش نمی‌شه و شخصیت‌ها رو توی موقعیت‌های خیلی بدی قرار می‌ده و همه‌اشون درگیر فقر، اعتیاد، تجاوز و مسائل جنسی و خشونت خانگی هستن، اسیر شدن و راه فراری ندارن
با همه‌ی این‌ها قلم پولاک عالیه. انگار در طول خوندن هر داستان با کلمات و جمله‌هاش آدمو سیاه و کبود می‌کنه و وقتی داستان تموم شد، ازت می‌پرسه بازم می‌خوای؟ و توام مثل یه خودآزارگرِ خوب کوچولو بهش می‌گی یِس دانلد.. گیو می مور

در ضمن این داستان‌ها خیلی به درد اون دسته مذهبی‌هایی می‌خوره که فکر می‌کنن خداشون اونا رو بیشتر از بقیه دوس داره که در طول زندگیشون مجبور نبودن توی کثافت دست و پا بزنن و این داستان‌ها رو میخونن و خداشونو شکر می‌کنن و اگه کسی بیاد پیششون بابت موضوعی شکایت کنه بهش می‌گن بیا این داستان‌ها رو بخون و ناشکری نکن. پس اگه همچین آدمی هستین خوندنش بهتون پیشنهاد میشه ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
خلاصه به درد همه نمی‌خوره و اگه قصد خوندن داشتین با احتیاط سر��غش برید
ترجمه‌اش خوب و روونه ولی تیغ سانسور بهش خورده و ملایم‌تر شده
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,895 reviews1,927 followers
November 13, 2021
The story that made me hurt the most, though it's not the finest structurally or stylistically, was “Knockemstiff.” Two strangers in a Cadillac convertible, husband and wife, pull into Maude's store for gas, and for the wife to take photos of the “Welcome to Knockemstiff” sign. The husband makes small talk with the clerk, commenting that “[i]t's hard to believe there's people that poor living in this country.” Their condescending words and actions are invisible to them. It's simply inconceivable to these privileged people that others are not, well, envious but impressed by them. They're blind to their cruelty.

This rest of this review has been revised and can be found at Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud.
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.5k followers
May 24, 2019

I grew up in Cincinnati--Norwood, to be precise--and whenever I read Raymond Carver, all the characters seem to speak to me with an Appalachian accent. Wrong of course, but it feels right to me.

Here comes Pollock's "Knockemstiff," set in the hopeless oxycontin hollers of Southern Ohio, and now those Carver-like characters of Appalachia have a fine writer who knows how to give them voice.

Half the stories (the first fourth of the book and the last fourth) are very fine indeed. and the others--although they often seem self-consciously grubby, with every other descriptive phrase carrying one adjective too much---are certainly worth your time.

This guy is better than Harry Crews, and I'm going to read whatever he writes from now on.
Profile Image for Dave Edmunds.
263 reviews58 followers
September 28, 2021


My second book from Donald Ray Pollock, after reading the sensational "the Devil All the Time."  I had immediately fell in love with the authors harsh, brutal but completely authentic style, crazy characters and his ability to describe degradation and depravity in such a matter-of-fact way.  The way he puts this across as common, realistic and normal really is second to none.  I certainly haven't experienced many authors quite like him.

"A damp, gray sky covered southern Ohio like the skin of a corpse."

In Knockemstiff, which coincidentally is a real place in southern Ohio where Mr Pollock was born and raised, he gives us a collection of short stories.  They are all interwoven, being in the same location and with the same set of characters popping up in various entries.  Does it reach the lofty heights set in the aforementioned Devil All the Time? Not quite. But it is still very, very good and a reading experience that you certainly need to get on board with. Just be ready to not be the same person when you come out on the other side of all that nastiness and debasement.

The individual stories themselves span about fifty years.  That's fifty years of degradation and violence. But Pollock's writing is razor sharp and he injects dark humour throughout. The kind of humour where you shouldn't really find it funny but do.  Say ten hail Mary's and give yourself a round of self-flagelation for that.  A deranged local who lives in a school bus comes across two siblings committing incest in Dynamite Hole, a boy's father catches him having sex with his sister's doll in Hair's Fate and an ex-bodybuilding champion injects his son with a dangerous combination of steroids in Dedication.  As you can tell it's far from pleasant reading but it does make for compulsive reading.


1950s Knockemstiff

Each story is excellent, while being bleak and darkly reflective of life in these impoverished towns. There's no underlying message of hope and Pollock never pretends to be here to make you feel good about humanity.  What he does is grab hold of the reader and take you for a ride in his '65 Chevy through the dark side of human existence.

"The Oxy filled holes in me I hadn’t even realized were empty. It was, at least for those first few months, a wonderful way to be disabled. I felt blessed."

I'll try and make this review short and not drone on for too long. But one thing I'd like to draw attention to is the quality of Pollock's writing. His prose are straight to the point, far from poetic but also raw, sharp and fitting to the narrative.  And boy does he have a voice that's original and clear. The dialogue is completely authentic and you can imagine these stories being a part of Pollock's life in the way he tells them. It took him to the age of fifty to become a published author after working in a paper mill and his experience and history shine through in his work.

Final thoughts, this a great collection of work that shows exactly what this author is all about. Despite the dark tone I had an absolute blast with it, I'm not ashamed to admit it.  I'm a huge fan of short stories and this is a very original, different and worthwhile read that you should experience for yourself. Enjoy!

"I'm beginning to believe that anything I do to extend my life is just going to be outweighed by the agony of living it."


Donald Ray Pollock worked at the paper mill in Knockemstiff
Profile Image for M.  Malmierca.
323 reviews281 followers
November 14, 2020
Brutal es la mejor palabra que he encontrado para definir Knockemstiff (2008). Brutal en su acepción de propio de los animales. Porque los personajes de los que habla Donald Ray Pollock (1954-) parecen comportarse como tales. Contemplamos a la clase más baja de la sociedad norteamericana, pura basura blanca, balanceándose entre el deseo y la realidad, entre el salvajismo y la disciplina de las religiones radicales en una lucha constante por la supervivencia. Desbocadas locomotoras sin conductor a las que solo se le ofrecen las opciones de atropellar o descarrilar.

Knockemstiff es un pequeño pueblo interior de la América profunda. El ejemplo de una América pobre, analfabeta, sin moral y racista a la vez que olvidada y sin posibilidad de futuro, que solo es capaz de atender a los instintos más primarios: el hambre, indebidamente saciada; la violencia, como principal característica de la hombría; el sexo, en sus vertientes más aberrantes y la evasión de la realidad a través del alcohol, drogas, medicamentos o esteroides. La América del vale de comida y la ayuda por accidente laboral, de las caravanas sin retrete y las bocas desdentadas, de los campos contaminados y los bares siempre abiertos, de la mugre y las armas... Tan alejada de las otras Américas, del glamur de Hollywood o de la opulencia de Wall Street, como puede estar de una aldea en las montañas del Tíbet. Knockemstiff se muestra como una sucia y pegajosa telaraña de la que es imposible escapar, porque la araña de la ausencia total de futuro aparece más pronto que tarde para devorar a todos los desgraciados atrapados en sus hilos.

El estilo de Ray Pollock es suficientemente explícito para conmocionar, pero también suficientemente conciso para no recrearse en la sordidez de lo narrado. Un estilo lejano, aséptico, casi impersonal (hasta cuando se narra en primera persona) que aumenta aun más la sensación de incredulidad y de desasosiego. La aparición de personajes en varias etapas de su vida dentro de diferentes relatos, te permite observar mejor su declive y otorga a la obra una sensación de unidad. Veinticuatro relatos como veinticuatro golpes directos al estómago que cortan la respiración y te dejan al borde del mareo, de la náusea.

Habría mucho más que decir, muchos párrafos para señalar, pero creo que Kiko Amat, en su magnifico prologo, lo expresa mucho mejor que yo. En cualquier caso, lo que sí puedo hacer es ponerme ahora mismo a leer su novela: El diablo a todas horas. Y ya estoy en ello.
Profile Image for La loca de los libros .
295 reviews116 followers
May 31, 2023
"Mi padre me enseñó a hacer daño a la gente una noche de agosto en el autocine Torch cuando yo tenía siete años."

Así empieza el relato que abre esta antología llamado "La vida real", donde conoceremos al pequeño Bobby y al bruto de su padre, Vernon, y como este le "enseña" a enfrentarse a la vida.

Donald Ray Pollock se encabeza dentro del top 5 de mis escritores favoritos. Si ya tenía claro su capacidad narrativa al leer "El diablo a todas horas" (de mis novelas favoritas leídas el año pasado) con esta, su primera novela, me reafirmo en constatar que es un genio mostrando el realismo más duro y sucio de la vida rural decadente de esos pequeños pueblos sureños perdidos de la América profunda, poniendo el foco en la localidad de Knockemstiff, Ohio.
Las más bajas miserias se dan la mano en forma de violaciones, agresiones, asesinatos, perversiones y todo tipo de vejaciones.
Sentirás tu propia cara retorcerse en una mueca de asco en más de una ocasión porque Pollock no escatima en detalles truculentos.

Un extra de mi edición es un mapa de la región que podemos encontrar al inicio, con los lugares más pintorescos y destacables que nombran a lo largo de los diversos relatos.
Muy entretenido ir buscando cada emplazamiento y las casas de cada personaje.

Dieciocho relatos cargados de pesadumbre y dolor. Algo que me ha encantado es que algunos están interconectados, compartiendo localizaciones y dando lugar a que algunos personajes crucen sus vidas con los protagonistas de otras historias.

Aquellos en los que los niños son protagonistas o se ven involucrados de alguna manera son los que más me han llegado, nos hacen conectar con nuestro niño interior, y eso siempre duele.
Otros te dejan con incógnitas y ganas de más como "Domingo de lluvia", te corroe la impotencia y el dolor por esos niños como en "Manteca" o "Gigantomaquia", y te emocionas viendo como Howard ya no reconoce al mundo que le rodea en "Honolulú."
Lo que está claro es que todos tienen algo que te llega, salvo uno o dos, Pollock tiene esa facilidad para transmitir y hacer que te sientas, por un instante, un habitante más.

En esencia, todos son muy destacables, de una calidad notable.
Me ha costado decidirme, pero de todo el conjunto me quedo con estos seis, los cuales describiré brevemente solo para que se hagan una idea de lo que se pueden encontrar en ellos.

🏚 "La vida real."
 
El pequeño Bobby será testigo de un hecho violento que marcará su vida.
Nada como predicar con el ejemplo de su progenitor al no conocer otro modo de hacer frente a la vida.

🏚 "El destino del pelo."

El padre de Daniel lo pilla "in fraganti" en una situación un tanto comprometida.
No le queda más remedio que huir en busca de un futuro menos incierto.
Pobre de él.
O puede que sea mejor cualquier otra vida que la que tenía.
Nunca se sabe.

🏚 "Gigantomaquia."

La inocencia de unos niños que se ve rota por los delirios y brutalidad de sus progenitores. Buenísimo.

🏚 "Manteca."

"-Tienes que dejar de leer libros - le aconsejó una mañana mientras estaban sentados a la mesa de la cocina. El viejo tenía una pinta espantosa; saltaba a la vista que acababa de tener otra pesadilla chunga -. Empieza a ver más la tele."

Un padre vive aterrorizado porque su hijo aún no se ha "estrenado" con una chica.
Su mayor terror es que sea homosexual.
Terriblemente sigue siendo un tema muy actual.

🏚 "Hondonada."

"Todas las mañanas, antes de que Mary abriera su primera botella de vino, yo iba al cuarto del viejo y lo afeitaba, lo lavaba y le cambiaba el pañal. [...] Aquello implicaba levantarse temprano, pero yo no paraba de pensar que si trataba bien al viejo tal vez algún día alguien me devolvería el favor."

Otra gran historia en la que parece que no hay redención posible.

🏚 "Honolulú."

Un relato con una gran carga emotiva.
De los mejores de la colección sin ninguna duda.

🔝👌 Camioneros sudorosos, pervertidos, tierras yermas, tabaco de mascar, drogas de todo tipo y mucho alcohol.
Pollock es un prodigio relatando las vidas más desgraciadas, así que si quieres comprobarlo de primera mano solo tienes que enfundarte en tu peto con una camisa de franela a cuadros o una simple camisa sin mangas si el sol aprieta, adentrarte en Knockemstiff y recorrer la hondonada, sus calles llenas de polvo, sus caravanas herrumbrosas, ventas y casas destartaladas, conocer a sus habitantes y sus tristes vidas, y dar las gracias por la vida que tienes.

📖 Próxima lectura:
"La maldición gitana" - Harry Crews.

https://www.facebook.com/LaLocadelosL... 📚
Profile Image for Daren.
1,300 reviews4,373 followers
January 24, 2023
Ha, I had no idea Knockenstiff, Ohio was not fictional - and I must say I thought it was a ridiculous name for a fictional town - little did I know Donald Ray Pollock wrote about a fictional town with the real name of his home town. This put me on the back foot a little, starting this review.

I would compare this book to RK Narayan's Malgudi Days for format, but not content! By which I mean it is made up of chapters, each containing a single short story, set in the same town, with some common characters and mixing stories. In this case they are almost exclusively grit-lit characters - alcoholics, drug abusers, petty criminals, those with jobs (not too many) are in minimum wage, dead end jobs. The timeframe is hard to pin down, but there are generational stories, which suggest they range from the 1960's to the 1990's. Each story more disturbing than the next, and all told in a detached and matter of fact way, which seemed to give them more power.

There is talk of 'escape' from many of the characters - escape largely from Knockemstiff, but escape from the generational misfortune and bleak lives, and the likelihood of repeating the life of their parents - which doesn't appeal, but escape seldom eventuates, unless you consider hooking up with a trucker and going interstate counts.

As you have probably detected, none of these stories are happy, or have happy endings. Drug and alcohol abuse, crime, violence, sexual abuse and violence - hopeless lives. And yet there is comedy cloaked in this misfortune - there are genuinely funny occurrences and ironies contained, but perhaps only for the reader who can avoid the other triggering aspects of the book. The writing is mean, and it exposes the inner thoughts, even the soul of the characters.

I would struggle to recommend it to those who can't absorb the above features of the narrative, the casual brutality of these lives. Those who have read Pollock's The Devil All the Time will already know what to expect. This was Pollock's first novel, so it doesn't have quite the same polish that Devil has though.

4 stars
Profile Image for Alialiarya.
172 reviews29 followers
August 25, 2022
شخصیت‌های پولاک برایم یادآور مخلوقات پل شریدر در سینما بودند. شخصیت‌های تیره و تار، با گذشته‌ای پر ا�� ترس و هراس و حالی بی‌حس و بی‌هدف. شخصیت‌های مخوفی که خشونت‌شان از کمبودهای‌شان سرچشمه می‌گیرد و برای همین شرشان ملموس و عذاب‌آور است. شخصیت‌هایی برگشته از جنگ، مورد تجاوز قرار گرفته، متنفر از مکان زندگی و درک نشده در جامعه و خانواده. پولاک مانند شریدر مخلوقات‌اش را در اولین عکس‌العمل‌شان به جهان نابرابر تند و خشن روایت می‌کند تا یادآوری کند تجمیع شر{اگر لغت درستی باشد} تبدیل به جنون می‌شود. خواندن هر داستان پولاک نگاهی بود به جهان شخصیت‌های غیرادبی. شخصیت‌های آن خانه‌های سیاه تولید کننده‌ی قاتل. یکی از تفاوت‌های شریدر و پولاک این است که شریدر در تنگ‌دستی و افسردگی در ماشین‌اش مخوف‌ترین شخصیت‌ها را خلق کرد و در جوانی به یکی از مهم‌ترین نویسندگان سینما بدل شد اما پولاک در دهه‌ی ششم زندگی‌اش تازه به خیال چاپ اثری افتاد. دهه‌ی ششم زندگی و آغاز نویسندگی حرفه‌ای. این هم خود جنون است
عمیقا دوست داشتم امتیاز بالاتری بدهم اما چند داستان کتاب اصلا راضی کننده نبود. حتما خواندنش را پیش‌نهاد می‌کنم
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,692 followers
September 27, 2019
"I'm beginning to believe that anything I do to extend my life is just going to be outweighted by the agony of living it."
- Donald Ray Pollock, "I Start Over" in Knockemstiff

description

Pollock's freshman effort is a series of short stories surrounding the Southern Ohio town of Knockemstiff (real town). The stories, like planets, orbit the dark sun of this sad, poor and pathetic American town. Each of the stories is like a bite from a rabid dog or a slap with a dirty hand. It is an infection and is hard to escape once read. It clings to the reader like a stink, like a nightmare, like a memory of corruption. Each of the stories seems to bounce between feeling a bit like an incestuous child of Churck Palahniuk and Flannery O'Connor delivered in the unwashed, chipped bathtub of Raymond Carver.

Here are the individual stories:

1. Real Life - ☠☠☠☠☠
2. Dynamite Hole - ☠☠☠
3. Knockemstiff - ☠☠☠☠
4. Hair's Fate - ☠☠☠
5. Pills - ☠☠☠☠☠
6. Giganthomachy - ☠☠☠☠☠
7. Schott's Bridge - ☠☠☠☠
8. Lard - ☠☠☠☠
9. Fish Sticks - ☠☠☠☠☠
10. Bactine - ☠☠☠☠☠
11. Discipline - ☠☠☠☠☠
12. Assailants - ☠☠☠
13. Rainy Sunday - ☠☠☠☠
14. Holler - ☠☠☠☠
15. I start over - ☠☠☠☠☠
16. Blessed - ☠☠☠
17. Honolulu - ☠☠☠☠
18. Fights - ☠☠☠☠☠
Profile Image for Trudi.
615 reviews1,418 followers
April 8, 2012

I'm going to start this review with a humble caveat -- there's no way I can do these stories (or Pollock's writing) any sense of justice. But if I can get you to pause whatever it is you're doing, if I can get you to put down whatever else you happen to be reading, for just a moment to think about this book then I will be a very happy woman indeed.

What can I say? Knockemstiff knocked me flat on my ass. The interconnected stories are an assault on the psyche - a kind of brutalization lined with a deep and abiding sadness (Kemper calls it "emotional desolation") -- a hopelessness that is at times suffocating. These are tales about people trapped in a dead-end place in dead-end lives who don't even have the wherewithal or wisdom to get the hell out of Dodge even if it means chewing their own goddam leg off to do so.

Pollock's characters are not caricatures -- Pollock makes you care, he shows you their humanity in all of its glorious dysfunction, then he makes you root for them and sometimes even pray for them. You know it's futile but you do it anyway -- and then you get your heart broke, and that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. I don't know what that says about me that this sort of visceral reading experience appeals to me, but it does. Perhaps it's the cold comfort that no matter how bad my life seems at any given moment on any given day, it will never be as bad as that.

I also believe it's the cold comfort that's derived from knowing humans are survivors no matter what. No matter what we find a way to endure; no matter how badly we muck things up, we find a way to carry on -- even broken, busted up and beaten down. Despite knowing deep down: "anything I do to extend my life is just going to be outweighed by the agony of living it." That's some coldass wisdom right there and it takes an amazing amount of courage and resiliency to face your life armed with that knowledge (but people do it every day).

The writing here is phenomenal -- cutthroat and precise. I'm amazed how quickly Pollock was able to drop me into any story and feel like I'd been reading about the characters for hundreds of pages already. Short stories usually leave me wanting something more and feeling like there is something fundamentally missing. Not so here. I experienced each story as a distinct entity with a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. Each opening sentence made a promise to the reader that Pollock delivers on. Also adding to the overall reading experience here is the fact that many of these stories interconnect so that a character from one will reappear in another, usually older and even more damaged than when we first meet them. This gives the collection a kind of coherency where the sum is far greater than the individual parts.

And of those opening sentences? Here are a few of my favorites. By reading these I think you'll be able to tell whether this collection is for you or not.

Real Life: 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.

Knockemstiff: Tina Elliot is leaving tomorrow, heading off with Boo Nesser to shack up in a trailer next to a Texas oil field, and I feel as bad as the time my mother died.

Hair's Fate: When people in town said inbred, what they really meant was lonely. Daniel liked to pretend that anyway. He needed the long hair. Without it, he was nothing but a creepy country stooge from Knockemstiff, Ohio--old people glasses and acne sprouts and a bony chicken chest.

Fish Sticks: It was the day before his cousin's funeral and Del ended up at the Suds washing his black jeans at midnight. They were the only pants he owned that were fit for the occasion.

Bactine: I'd been staying out around Massieville with my crippled uncle because I was broke and unwanted everywhere else, and I spent most of my days changing his slop bucket and sticking fresh cigarettes in his smoke hole.




Profile Image for A..
339 reviews48 followers
December 3, 2022
Hostil, asfixiante, brutal, decadente a más no poder, así es la vida en el inexistente Knockemstiff y así se refleja en este puñado de cuentos de Pollock. Tomando saludable distancia de sus personajes, sin juzgarlos en absoluto y con un pérfido humor negro, Pollock retrata las penurias de la white trash americana, esa America sin educación, ni dinero, ni rango social pero, ante todo, sin una mínima y misericordiosa dosis de esperanza.

Es mi primer libro de este autor y debo reconocer que me impactó su estilo directo y desgarrador. Un reflejo del Estados Unidos rural, analfabeto e insignificante, escrito sin sentimentalismos. No, no hay piedad para los nacidos para perder.
Profile Image for Stephanie *Eff your feelings*.
239 reviews1,197 followers
June 10, 2012
If you are feeling kind of crappy, like your life sucks and it couldn't get any worse, pick up a copy of Knockemstiff and give it a read. Soon you will be saying to yourself "Hmmm, well at least I'm not a crackhead, huffer, morbidly obesse whore, alcoholic or steroid user........I just can't stand my boss". (unless you are any of those things......my apologies.)

"I woke up thinking I'd pissed the bed again, but it was just the sticky spot from where Sandy and Me fucked the night before.  Those kind of things happen when you drink like I do-you shit your pants in the Wal-mart, you end up living off some crackhead and her poor parents.  I raised the blankets up just a tad, traced my finger over the blue KNOCKEMSTIFF, OHIO tattoo Sandy had etched on her skinny ass like a road sign.  Why some people need ink to remember where they are from will always be a mystery to me."

Yep. That's how one of the short stories in this book, Holler starts out. All eighteen start out like this, shockingly yet beautifully. Wait until you read the first sentence of Dynamite Hole, I wouldn't dream of spoiling that little gem for you here. I read it while waiting to order at a restaurant, I'm not sure how long the waitress was standing there before I came out of my shock and realized she was standing there waiting for my response. I looked up at her and managed a "huh?"

I am an Ohioan, born and raised in the North/central part of the state. I moved around the state before I moved out of it entirely and around the country. After fourteen years of being a vagabond I ended up back where I started. I thought I knew pretty much everything there was to know about Ohio, but I had never heard of a town by the name of Knockemstiff, I would have remembered that. It's 167 miles directly to the south, after reading this book I think I'll take care to keep clear of it.

I enjoyed this book completely, I was very impressed. I recommend it anyone who is feeling sorry for themselves.


Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,196 reviews9,482 followers
May 28, 2013

Well, the list of great contemporary American short story writers goes on and here’s another guy to add to it. I’m on a roll – one pitch-black collection about the underclass after another, from Frank Bill to Jordan Harper and now Donald Pollock. I can’t see this happening in the UK so I’m kind of jealous. The only book I’ve got to put up against these guys is The Acid House by Irvine Welsh. I need to do more research – where are the tales of the British underclass? (And while I'm on the subject all this underclass stuff seems to be a male thing - where are the women writing about this?)
(Mind you, we do make seemingly endless movies about the British version of the people in books like Knockemstiff and American Death Songs, off the top of my head, for instance, Dead Man's Shoes, The Debt collector, Ladybird ladybird, Harry Brown, Ae Fond Kiss, The Arbor, Boy A, Career Girls, Cherry Tree Lane, Fish tank, Neds, Tyrannosaur – and on and on. )

Anyhow, it’s hardly worth pointing out, because everybody already has, that Knockemstiff is a great collection of stories about the deadbeats, alkies, dopers, lowlives, racists, no hopers, the abused and the abusers of Southern Ohio. Not so many people die as they do in Frank Bill’s Indiana or Jordan Harper’s Ozarks but you would still rather drive the long way round southern Ohio, I think, the real long way round. And as usual, the unrelieved grimness is suffused with weird poetry, awful you-can’t-say-that humour and horrible but probably true fatalistic speculation on the nature of life without no money at all.

Here’s a quote :

She was packed in a pair of those stretch pants that overweight people should be thrown in prison for wearing. A faded Reds ball cap was cocked on her head at an angle that seemed to foretell, in my gloomy state, an ill-fated ride with a stranger. I could almost see a garden of moss slowly spreading over her secret resting place.


Note : this was another GR recommendation - so thanks again - in the immortal words of the Big Bopper "oh baby, that's-a what I like!"
Profile Image for Greg.
1,109 reviews1,844 followers
January 16, 2012
"Jill's always on me about my clogged pipes, but I'm a big guy-they don't call me Big Bernie for nothing-and I crave junk food like a baby craves the tit. Besides, I'm beginning to believe that anything I do to extend my life is just going to be outweighed by the agony of living it."

Welcome to Knockemstiff, Ohio. Hometown of Donald Ray Pollock and literary home of a whole slew of fucked up redneck, hillbilly, poor white trash.

What is it about white trash that makes for such good readin'? I think I wrote about this in a recent review, so I'll just leave the question hanging here.

This is a collection of stories all taking place in Knockemstiff, Ohio. The stories are sometimes interrelated, some characters guest star in multiple stories and the book is bookended and anchored towards the middle with stories about one particular family.

Years ago, well about ten. I had this idea I knocked around in my head for a long time (a couple of years probably), about writing a series of stories that would make up a book all about the trashier side of white Saratoga Springs, my surrogate hometown. I completed two of the stories (shhhh, I like to think I've never completed any), and started or at least jotted down premises for the rest of them. I gave up on the whole idea after awhile and the book is now part of the incredibly amazing library of unwritten books I have conceived of that would have (I'm sure) shaken the ground of American Letters. I was going to maybe share one of those stories, but I think they might actually be lost in some landfill or wherever old hard-drives go to die. Oh well, or maybe they are just somewhere on my computer in a folder I can't remember making.

Anyway, back to the book. These are a series of short stories that all are really fast to read. I think there is something about them that fooled me into reading them faster, and I tried to slow myself down by taking a break after a story or two, but then I'd find myself reading another book and not giving this book the attention I think it deserved. Even with my slipshod style of reading it, I know that there is something good going on here, and one day I should return to it and read them again, slower and without other books getting in the middle of them (I'm currently having a problem with starting books, I have about five books going on right now, I need to just start finishing some and not starting anymore until I do, but so many different titles keep calling out to me and I'm impatient).

While I'm not personally white trash (I don't think), I have spent quite a bit of time in my past watching them, frequenting the same places that they go to, getting called a faggot by them, going to their homes to deliver food and furniture, taking away furniture from them, working with them and still to this day being more afraid of them in a Wal-Mart when I'm home visiting my parents than I ever feel in New York City. This past Christmas I was home and visiting Wal-Mart to try to find a cable of some sort for my Dad and I got to overhear so many delightfully ignorant conversations about a whole host of topics. The kinds of things that if you read you might think were total fabrications, people really believe some of this shit? (I'm feeling too lazy to share them here, some of the topics included 'how calenders lie', 'why I don't trust the post-office', and 'how even going on the internet at all causes identity theft' (followed up by, 'how I'm smarter than all those other motherfuckers', this particular man was pontificating right in front of where the cable was that I needed to get, so I spent longer than I should have listening to him)) The point of that blabbing is that after my years of careful study of them I feel like Pollock nailed them so well. I felt like I was back nursing weak coffee at the Spa City Diner or standing on a rickety set of stairs leading up to a double wide at the Pyramid Pines trailer park (you know, the one out behind Wal-Mart with over three hundred units).

I'm not up to going to into very many particulars about the stories themselves. They are good even if it's doubtful very many of the characters can be called good. They are fucked up people, making bad decisions and trapped in bad lives with no hope of redemption. I (and maybe you) just get to get some enjoyment out of taking a glimpse into these lives and slum it for a couple of hundred pages.

Oh, and before I leave this review, I just wanted to share this other passage from the book. How depressing is this? This is like Raymond Carver level tightly packed depressing in the details. Or maybe it's just me.

"Sharon was heavy, too, but over the years she learned the secrets of makeup application and how to camouflage her thick body with brightly colored sweats."
Profile Image for Brandon Baker.
Author 14 books3,429 followers
October 9, 2022
Yikes 😅 I knew from the get-go that this was gonna be a messed up collection, and it was, but I wasn’t expecting just how horrible it made me feel. It’s not so much the casual depravity and violence (although that definitely didn’t make me feel great), but more than anything I thought it was just so hopelessly depressing.

Also, it was very strange to read these stories when I live not too far away from where they’re based. The fact that I knew most of the locations he was referencing just added another layer to the story, making it that much more real and upsetting. Which was exactly how I felt about The Devil All The Time, so I’m not sure what I was expecting, but yeah, this very much got to me, and I highly recommend it!!
Profile Image for Richard.
984 reviews360 followers
March 23, 2016
This debut short story collection by Donald Ray Pollock is comprised of hard little nuggets of country grit that follow a variety of individuals living in and around the small Ohio holler of Knockemstiff, a place based on Pollock's own hometown. It's hard to look back on the book and single out stories for review because each story truly does feel like part of a whole, making the book feel more cohesive than most story collections. Many of the characters are referenced in more than story, and some even reappear in multiple stories. But, at the risk of sounding like a cliche, the main character in all the stories is the town itself, acting as the stories' sort-of-antagonist, placing an almost mystical hold on its inhabitants. Some dream of leaving but are either held back by circumstances or terrified of the world outside. Some even actually leave but are ultimately brought down by the past or are pulled back. And here, Pollock's blunt and doom-filled language gives the reader a hint of what's to come in his great follow-up novel, The Devil All The Time .
I'm beginning to believe that anything that I do to extend my life is just going to be outweighed by the agony of living it.
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,052 reviews583 followers
February 11, 2015
I loved The Devil All the Time, Pollock's follow up novel so I thought I'd go back to his first book, Knockemstiff (hereafter referred to as K). K begat TDATT in that it is a series of short stories or vignettes set in Pollock's actual home town called (yeah) K. TDATT is a novel featuring one of the characters introduced in K.

The stories or scenes in K are all impactful if desperately sad and grim. All of the participants are what would commonly be described (where I live) as drug-ridden, low-life losers. There did come a point I though I could take no more but after a break I went back to it and I'm glad I did as the writing is of a very high quality indeed. Yes, some bits are better than others and, look as you may, you won't find any happy endings here. But as a whole it has power and craft and leaves an impression that's difficult to shake off.

I'd read more by this writer but my advice is stay away from K if you've had a bad day... and even if you haven't, approach with caution.
Profile Image for Brian.
Author 1 book981 followers
December 26, 2017

If Sherwood Anderson had been born 50 years later, 3 hours SW of Winesburg and written his collection of stories with characters from the fourth circle of hell, they might have been neighbors to the denizens of Knockemstiff. It's okay to read the stories and laugh because you want to cry; slack-jawed and wondering whether it's possible that there are real people even remotely similar. Pollock wrote this collection before the advent of reality television, and although he claims this is a total work of fiction based upon a real place, all the reader needs to do is watch an episode of whatever dreck reality TV vomits that week to realize that oh yes, these fictional characters only scratch the surface. Abandon all hop all yee who enter her.
Profile Image for Amalia (◍•ᴗ•◍)❤.
291 reviews59 followers
June 28, 2022
3.5🌟
Contiene 18 relatos muy duros, violentos, repletos de escenas difíciles de olvidar de lo explícitos que son.
A mí me han gustado pero no es para todos los públicos 🔞.
En fin, para que os hagáis una idea son del estilo de La chica de al lado de Jack Ketchum.
.
It contains 18 very hard, violent stories, full of scenes that are difficult to forget because of how explicit they are.
I liked them but it's not for all audiences 🔞.
Anyway, to give you an idea, they are in the style of The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum.
Profile Image for Kansas.
575 reviews272 followers
April 22, 2022
"Volví la cabeza y contemplé la calle nevada por la ventana, confiando en que alguien se presentara con la droga suficiente para dejarme fuera de combate. Hubo un tiempo en que prácticamente se me consideraba guapo y todo un juerguista. Las mujeres decentes me llamaban por mi nombre de verdad y las strippers de Tater Brown's me dejaban que les encendiera los cigarrillos."

Una vez que me sumerjo en estos cuentos lo primero que me viene a la mente es la pregunta de si este pueblo realmente podría existir, sin embargo la duda desaparece en cuanto me entero que Pollock nació allí, así que probablemente sabe de lo que habla. Knockemstiff, es una ciudad real de Ohio, el medio oeste rural, cuya traducción proviene de la expresión inglesa knock them/him stiff (dejálo/s tieso/s) y existen varias teorías sobre el origen de esta elección del nombre, pero eso se lo dejo a los lectores para que lo investiguen en el magnífico Prólogo de Kiko Amat de la edición, dónde hace un recorrido por la novela. Donald Ray Pollock publicó su primer libro a los 50 y pocos después de décadas trabajando de camionero de una fábrica de papel así que intuyo que en esta colección condensaría todas sus experiencias y las convirtió en dieciocho historias de personajes al límite de la desesperanza más absoluta, la violencia, la adicción y la autodestrucción.

"Me acuerdo de cuando Jerry tenía esa edad. Pensarlo me hace sentirme como una mierda, pero hay días en que daría lo que fuera por poder dejarlo en la acera como si fuera un electrodoméstico estropeado para que se lo lleve el chatarrero." (Empiezo desde cero)"

El primer cuento La vida real es como una bofetada o un golpe al estómago totalmente inesperado, y cuando todavía no había conseguido recuperarme de él, llega El hoyo de la dinamita, una historia brutal de carencias de personajes sin salida. Son dos cuentos turbadores e impactantes los cuales me va a ser imposible olvidar ya. A partir de aquí el resto de los cuentos pueden ser más o menos geniales pero todos aúnan esa asfixia de personajes que viven atrapados porque muchos de ellos comparten el deseo de escapar, de salir de la hondonada y como en un bucle siempre acaban volviendo al inicio, a Knockemstiff, un vacío del que solo encontrarán alivio en las drogas y las anfetaminas porque en estas historias las drogas lo son todo, son la única posibilidad de escapar de la realidad.

"Mi cabeza se convirtió en unas vacaciones perfectas y mis nervios en pequeños capullos espumosos de leche. La oxicodona llenó vacíos en mi que yo ni sabía que existieran. Fue, por lo menos durante aquellos primeros meses, una forma maravillosa de estar inválido. Me sentía bendecido." (Bendecido)"

Otro tema que Pollock aborda continuamente es la relación padres e hijos; la mayoría de estos hijos crecen a la sombra de unos padres de una masculinidad tan tóxica que los incapacitan para ejercer el respeto con lo cual acaban pareciéndose a ellos, así que se podría decir que en este mundo la mujer se lleva la peor parte. El sexo degradante y la atmósfera de violencia anticipada está muy presente en muchas de estas historias y sorprende hasta qué punto Pollock no se arredra ante el hecho de que hubiera podido convertir a sus personajes en meras caricaturas hiperexageradas, pero no, porque su estilo es simple, coherente, transparente y en ningún momento hay gratuidad. En ese aspecto me recuerda muchísimo a Flannery O’Connor donde el límite entre lo grotesco y lo normal es tan fino que que se difumina.

"Había entrado en una fase en que fingía ser una estrella de cine, y se pasaba horas hablando de buñuelos de cangrejo y de vestidos de noche y de la puesta de sol en alguna playa escondida. El hecho de que no me hubiera dejado no era más que otra señal de indolencia. En una sociedad más avanzada, lo más seguro es que nos hubieran matado a los dos y les hubieran echado nuestros cadáveres a los perros."

Donald Ray Pollock es un autor al que llevaba tiempo queriendo acercarme y la verdad es que ha resultado una bomba de relojería en cuanto al impacto que me ha causado. Sus cuentos acaban siendo memorables, porque no solo están interconectados por la tierra en la que ocurren, sino por sus personajes que se repiten en varias historias e incluso vamos haciendo un seguimiento de algunos de ellos a medida que van creciendo. Pollock no crea héroes, pero tampoco villanos, la autodestrucción campa a sus anchas y sin embargo, hay momentos en que hay auténticos resquicios de vida y de belleza. Una maravilla.

"Cuando los del pueblo lo llamaban tarado, lo que en realidad querían decir era solitario. O por lo menos a Daniel le gustaba fingir eso. Necesitaba el pelo largo. Sin él, no era más que un siniestro adefesio rural de Knockemstiff, Ohio: gafas de viejo, brotes de acné y un pecho de pollo esmirriado. ¿Alguna vez habéis probado a ser alguien así? Cuando tienes catorce años es peor que estar muerto." (El destino del pelo)

https://kansasbooks.blogspot.com/2022...
Profile Image for Toby.
832 reviews329 followers
January 29, 2013
Dreams and fears are contained in this collection, mostly what happens to poor uneducated people when their fears and reality destroy their dreams.

This is the story of a town told through vignette like short stories of the towns residents. It's a poor town, that keeps its people trapped, that slowly wears down even the most optimistic dreamers until they too are fucking a childs toy, inhaling chemicals from a plastic bag, killing themselves and others, and being inexplicably drawn back to the holler from new places just to live in filth and abuse everybody in ways worse than they themselves were abused.

It sure is bleak around Knockemstiff, Ohio but these tales are told with heart, unlike other books in the same vein which seem to want to shock, Pollack wants you to know that this is normal behaviour for these people and not reality as passed through a hall of mirrors in to grotesqueness. Pollack is blunt and to the point and that is what makes this a remarkable collection. Are we meant to pity these poor people? I do, I have sympathy for the choices they felt they had to make or were too stupid not to make.

These anecdotes of redneck life shift from funny to sad with the drop of a comma, almost always violent in some way but somehow always depicting the emotional destruction and inner turmoil of the characters. Comparisons to Carver are more than deserved, if you have a strong stomach then I cannot recommend you spend a day or two in Knockemstiff highly enough.
Profile Image for Maciek.
562 reviews3,319 followers
March 29, 2012
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.
-Donald Ray Pollock, Real Life

Knockemstiff is a real place. It's a small town in southern Ohio, where Donald Ray Pollock grew up. The place supposedly owes its name to a preacher's advice: when a woman came to him and confessed her suspicions that her husband was cheating on her, he is told to have replied "knock'em stiff". An image search will show a small town, with few residents, but a whole bunch of local haunting stories.
After dropping out of high school at the age of 17, mr. Pollock went to work in a paper mill for over 30 years. After three decades of working with paper he decided to set something to paper; he enrolled in a creative writing program at the Ohio State University, and eventually came out with this collection of short stories.

Another writer who comes to mind is Sherwood Anderson, and his collection Winesburg, Ohio, which was also a set of interconnected short stories set in a small Ohio town. However, Pollocks's work is original and stands on its own; drawing from his own experiences and imagination he creates a memorable setting, characters and scenes that are bound to stay in memory. His creations are intervined with each other; the main protagonist from one story turns up in another as a passerby, the same event is shown from two sides in two stories. Of course, the town stays the same, and all characters use the same small convenience store, the only one they have available.

There is a deep sense of hopelesness in these stories, as the characters try to break away from the small town, but cannot. They are often disfigured physically and/or mentally, are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Their relationships with one another are complicated and often violent; the community seems like a circus of strange creatures. The 18 stories are varied enough and the reader is interested in the life of these people, and some of the stories take place outside the small town, but most of them are grounded in the hopeless and depressing holler. Pollock's language is stark and brutal, but at times poetic and distinctive. He swiftly developed his own writing style, and took full advantage of using it to present his stories.

You cannot but feel respect for a man who decided to completely change his life and get out of a menial job he where he has been working for decades. A now or never moment; he broke away and wrote, wrote and published, and became a name full of promise. He has since published a debut novel, The Devil All the Time which is also very fine. One can hope to hear more from mr. Pollock in the future; he has achieved too much and is too good to fall silent now and be forgotten.

Favorite stories: Although I enjoyed all the stories in this volume, I think that the opening one, Real Life, which I quoted at the beginning deserves a mention. It's short, straightforward and brutal. I also surprisingly enjoyed Discipline, about a bodybuilder trying to get his son into a local competition. It's a great example of peripetheia, with what is probably the best and most memorably written concluding passages in the whole volume.
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94 reviews8 followers
July 23, 2012
Americans used to be titillated by tales of the Dark Continent; now they are titillated by closer-to-home tales of the Rural Wasteland. Come, ye gentrified reading public, and marvel at the escapades of the proud, wayward savages of the impoverished Midwest! Behold brisk tales of abusive daddies, huffers, whores, country-fried criminals and incestuous chillun. The author worked in a paper mill for decades, so you know he's the real deal. You've probably never even seen a paper mill from a distance, you nancy boy.

Communities are complex. Even the rural ones. Human beings are varied. Even the poor ones. Knockemstiff is a Photoshopped cover girl in reverse – everyone looking more or less the same, but with flaws embellished, beauty negated.

One protagonist is stuck in Knockemstiff, Ohio like a “smile on a dead clown’s ass.” A protagonist in a different story is trapped in town like a “toadstool stuck to a rotten log.” If that makes it sound like the author is regurgitating different shades of the same story repeatedly, well…

The pacing is brisk throughout; you won’t find yourself trudging through even if you aren’t particularly engrossed. There are some pieces of memorable action, but you can mostly trust your instincts after the first page. If “It was hotter than a fat lady’s box that evening” strikes you as good/fresh/edgy/shocking/hilarious writing, strap yourself in. Otherwise you can probably pick a couple pieces, get the gist, and politely bow out.

Pollock’s champions may dismiss his critics as not having the stomach for a raw, bleak dystopia. In some cases, that may be true; I’ve seen a few reviews like “Too dark! Too sad! Too profane! Too hopeless! I needed some redemption!” That’s not my camp at all. I like darkness and sadness and profanity and perversion and bitterness and unhappy endings. That’s life (though seldom ALL of life). I like insight and nuance and beautiful writing, too. But, hey, sometimes it’s hotter than a fat lady’s box and you’re stuck with a book somewhere feeling like a smile on a dead clown’s ass.
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