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Knockemstiff Hardcover – March 18, 2008

4 out of 5 stars 185 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Significant Seven, March 2008: A quick Internet search for "Knockemstiff, Ohio" reveals a lazy nexus of shabby houses and dirt roads in southern Ohio, lacking a post office and grocery store, but rich in legends of epic fistfights and swamp-dwelling ghosts. Donald Ray Pollock, a native of this "ghost town," populates his own Knockemstiff with living revenants: huffers, murderers, sex fiends, and their hapless (though not innocent) victims, all tethered to the woebegone "holler" by their own self-inflicted shortcomings and depravities. Pollock pulls no punches--his prose is blunt and visceral, as well as stylish and skilled--and reading these mini grand guignols can be like crunching on a mouthful of your own broken teeth. He resists casting judgment (or sympathy) on his doomed reprobates; predator or prey (or sometimes both), Pollock contemplates his characters with all the warmth of a "frozen bleach bottle." It's an astonishing debut. --Jon Foro

From Publishers Weekly

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. (Mar.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 206 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (March 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385523823
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385523820
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (185 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #400,451 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Donald Ray Pollock's my hero. He's taken a leap into space and he's not coming back. I'm only half way through this book, but it's already been worth the money. More than worth it. I'm taking my time with it.

This man who stopped at age 45 to write his book; he felt it was now or never. He didn't want to go to his grave without trying. Now he has carved out a career -- away from driving trucks or working at a meat packing plant. That's guts, and he's good.

I don't know where he gets his stories, how he writes so well, or how he sleeps at night. But he's driving at 120 miles per hour to a place that's impossible to describe. Just amazing.

Bill
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By evesweeds on September 7, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Had a run in with the too-brutal-to-be-beautiful the other day. After hearing an NPR interview with the writer Donald Ray Pollock, I rushed out and bought his award-winning collection of short stories called Knockemstiff (2008). Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate stark, gritty writing, especially when it breathes life into a small town of characters. Books like Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio (1919), Steinbeck's Cannery Row (1945), and Naipaul's Miguel Street (1970), rank among my favorites, and certainly Pollock's stories follow in this theatre-of-the-grotesque tradition. But for whatever reason, and in spite of masterful use of punchy dialog, satisfying plot tempo, and vivid characterization, Pollock doesn't get it. His town remains vacant and dead, the people more zombie than human. I don't say this because his stories hinge on things like violence, abuse, rape, and gore. I understand that these things are very real and closely knit to the human experience. Of course there is a place for them in literature. I say it because these things are not the total of human experience. Brutality must be tempered by a certain gentleness, hatred by affection, isolation by connectedness, etc. I am not advocating for sticky Hallmarky sweetness, here. I just want enough balance to be palatable. To be convincing. To be beautiful, I guess. I don't like finishing a book feeling dirty and sick to my stomach.

This is an excerpt from my blog. To read more go to [...]
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Format: Hardcover
You get 18 short stories here in a little over 200 pages. Knockemstiff is an actual town in Ohio, and the author grew up there: you can see a photo or two if you do a Google search. From the stories in the book, you wouldn't think that it could produce a Donald Pollock. The tales are terse, succinct, and portray an unrelentingly grim locale. There doesn't seem to be much hope for any of the residents, or much joy outside of misused prescription drugs, Bactine-sniffing, and booze. Knockemstiff isn't a place you'd like to live within 50 miles of.

The stories take place over many years, with flashbacks to the 1940's, and most of the people appear in more than one story. This has the benefit that even though a tale might introduce a new person or two, the other people and places are already very familiar. What will be unsettling for most readers will be the behavior and activies of the townspeople. Incest, rape, and murder occur at times, but an underlying sense of tension and violence is almost always present. If you like sweet tales of romance, you'd best try some other book: the closest thing here might be a story about a boy and his sister's doll. All in all, it's a grim place and life, and effectively narrated.

There are some other writers this book brings to mind. Cormac McCarthy's Child of God is, in a way, like a full-length novel about one of Knockemstiff's people. McCarthy's Outer Dark and The Orchard Keeper also come to mind. Another similar voice, not as well known as McCarthy, but who should not be missed, is William Gay. Gay's novels The Long Home, Provinces of Night (the title comes from a line in Child of God), and Twilight are excellent, and Gay's book of short stories I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down will remind you of Knockemstiff.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I grew up in a struggling farming community in Southeast Missouri. My hometown's greatest claim to fame was the day it was listed in Newsweek as the "Meth Capital of America." I don't know if the title still stands, but it wasn't until I slipped away and into the sophisticated nether-regions of the rest of the world that I realized what a stark, bark-and-barley life I'd been raised in.

KNOCKEMSTIFF, a collection of bare-bones stories by newcomer Donald Ray Pollock, brought back home all of the late night drive-arounds, the cloudy sense of life's last end, the heart-knuckling boredom that fills such places, and which can grip at and suck away on your heart just as the dark, clayey mud that fills the fields will grip and suck at your shoes.

You won't make it to the end of the first story -- REAL LIFE -- before it hits you that you're reading something that will leave more than a few papercuts as an impression. The substance is hard to talk about without making the collection sound pie-faced. Say hello to trailer trash, low-rent thieves, incest, lewdness at the laundromat, and enough drugs to make Keith Richards go pale. While the tales are populated by people who think "grammar" is the woman married to "grampa," the heart of every story soars far beyond truncated slang and self-destruction as entertainment.

There are moments where it gets hard to stomach, but only because Pollock is so dismally unforgiving to his characters. And he does such an amazing job of transmitting this ghost town's flat, mindless gloom that you may find yourself blinking against the hard misery of it all. Read about the slow, steady death of a town, and the slow, steady deaths of its citizens.
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