Wednesday, March 23, 2016

KNOCKEMSTIFF by Donald Ray Pollock

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.


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