Many characters who try to escape Knockemstiff end up hours later back where they started. If by some stroke of luck they do succeed in breaking free of the town, it is usually only to wind up in other, distant margins. But Knockemstiff is no quaint Winesburg. The people of Knockemstiff may be overworked and tired, but they can dream. In the title story, the unnamed narrator muses late at night about all the other Ohioans watching the same Charlie Chan movie on the local TV channel.

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The residents already know where they are, and not many strangers pass through. One of the two main roads in town, Shady Glen, eventually runs out of pavement and turns to dirt.

The substances they ingest include marijuana, meth, mescaline, hashish, angel dust, OxyContin and Seconal in suppository form. The ball field that a Vista volunteer built in the late s is overgrown with weeds and briars. Many of the original houses have burned or been knocked down and replaced with double-wide mobile homes.

Driving through town at the end of June, Mr. Pollock, who now lives in nearby Chillicothe, said there were lot of theories about how his hometown got its name, including a story about two women getting into a fight over a man in front of the church and the preacher overhearing one say she was going to knock the other stiff. Hating high school, he dropped out in 11th grade and went to work in a meatpacking plant before moving briefly to Florida.

Then his father called and said he could get Mr. The Mead paid good wages, and moreover, it was a convenient place to drink and do drugs — Mr. Pollock began attending Ohio University part time, and in he graduated with a degree in English literature. When he turned 45 he decided to learn how to write. I probably did that for 18 months. I knew that in the back of my head, but it still helped to see it.

He submitted the story to The Journal, a literary magazine published by the English department at Ohio State University, and it made such an impression on one of the editors, Michelle Herman, that in she persuaded him to quit his job and enroll in the M. Herman said recently. People today have all taken classes. What he needed was really basic, rough copy-editing. The characters include a husband and wife team of serial killers, a predatory minister and a spider-eating backwoods preacher convinced that he can raise the dead.

Pollock, who works in an attic room, filled with weight-lifting equipment, in a Victorian house he shares with his third wife, Patsy.


Donald Ray Pollock

Knockemstiff is a genuine entry into the literature of place. 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 irresistibly, undeniably real. 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.


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Knockemstiff, Ohio


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