Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock

It’s safe to say that as a genre Noir isn’t for everyone. Especially when it contains content that is a bit more, shall we say, edgy.

“Knockemstiff” dates back a few years and is a book of short stories by Ohio author Donald Ray Pollock. As an adjective “edgy” might be a touch too mild when describing Pollock’s narratives.
But don’t let that deter you from giving these amazing stories a try. They all take place in southern Ohio, in and around a fictional town called Meade (which in real life is Chillicothe), and an actual one horse town called, you guessed it, Knockemstiff.
The stories are typical noir (some may label it rural noir, or perhaps hillbilly noir) and they’re filled with losers and criminals and drug users; and they’re outlandish, outrageous, and pretty much beyond belief.
Seriously though, the writing is top-notch and off-the-wall good.
Take for example the opening paragraph of the first story, 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.”
Pollock himself grew up in Knockemstiff - a small town that according to legend got its name from an exclamation made by a preacher while watching a fight between two women. Although the stories and the people in them are fiction, the seeds of the stories were planted in Pollock’s real life in and around the rough-and-tumble town.
Another story, Bactine, begins with this line: “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.”
“Knockemstiff” certainly isn’t for everyone, just as books by Chuck Palahniuk or Flannery O’Connor or Cormac McCarthy aren’t for everyone.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t extremely good.
“Knockemstiff” is available in the VBPL catalog, as are Pollock’s two full-length novels “The Devil All the Time” and “The Heavenly Table.”   

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