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Knockemstiff Hardcover – March 18, 2008

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Editorial Reviews 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: 8.5 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (159 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #869,988 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Donald Ray Pollock grew up in Knockemstiff, Ohio, and quit high school at seventeeen to work in a meatpacking plant. He then spent thirty-two years employed as a laborer at the Mead Paper Corporation in Chillicothe, Ohio, before enrolling in the MFA program at Ohio State University. His first book, a collection of stories called Knockemstiff, won the 2009 PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship. His novel, The Devil All The Time, is forthcoming from Doubleday in July, 2011. Though pretty much a Luddite when it comes to most computer stuff, he is now on Facebook ( and also has a website at

Customer Reviews

It's a very well written, well thought-out collection of stories.
Greg Robertson
Not a weak story in the bunch and I find myself putting down the book after each story and almost forgetting that I'm just reading a book.
A. Kapahi
I have recommended this one to my friends; it is the kind of book that people who like people will like.
Jack Cracker

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Bill Mitchell on March 26, 2008
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.

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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By David W. Straight on March 29, 2008
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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Mark Eremite VINE VOICE on June 2, 2008
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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Greg Robertson VINE VOICE on July 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having spent a lot of my youth in an area not unlike Knockemstiff, albeit next door in Indiana, I can definitely say that Pollock captures a people, a mindset, and a time very accurately in most every story in the book. It's so painfully accurate, in fact, that it makes the book hard to read at times.

Like Raymond Carver before him, Pollock gets inside the minds and lives of all too ordinary people who are down on their luck and have been on a generational level for decades. And like Carver, no depression is too deep, no bitterness is too acidic, and no depravity is too disgusting to re-create for the reader here.

Don't get me wrong - Donald Ray Pollock is an exceptional writer, and proves it in every line and paragraph of the book. It's simply that after the first five or six stories, I found that I had to set it aside for a while out of pure self-preservation and read something more positive before picking it back up again. It's not that the book is filled with anger and violence -- it has elements of both -- but more that most of the characters are NOT angry when they commit their violence. They are almost apathetic about rape, killing, and general inhumanity toward others, primarily because they see themselves as victims who are just trying to get by...and see their victims as being in their way.

So is it worth buying? Absolutely. It's a very well written, well thought-out collection of stories. Just do yourself a favor and also pick up something humorous that you can turn to as a mental break at various times as you read it.
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