four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
34-May-June-2008
user_rating: 
0

A-KnockemstiffKnockemstiff, Ohio, is a bleak, rural town that America forgot—a town rich in violence, depravity, and bloodshed. In these 18 linked stories that span the mid-1960s to the late 1990s, Pollock introduces the town’s down-and-out characters—degenerate sex addicts, drugged-out criminals, fornicating siblings, and murderers—all thwarted by life’s offerings. In "Hair’s Fate," an abusive father punishes his son for having sex with his sister’s doll by chopping off his hair with a butcher knife. "Giganthomachy" features a woman who begs her son to pretend to be the Boston Strangler. As one character admits, "It’s the same for most of us; forgetting our lives might be the best we’ll ever do."
Doubleday. 224 pages. $22.95. ISBN: 0385523823

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Knockemstiff is a powerful, remarkable, exceptional book that is very hard to read. … [Pollock] makes no judgments, and that’s one of his great strengths." Diana Wagman

Oregonian 4.5 of 5 Stars
"He draws his readers in slowly, tangling them in the mundane toil of small-town life, before smacking them upside the head with something unexpected and primal. … For as wretched and thwarted as its inhabitants may be, Knockemstiff had me captivated, and I couldn’t wait to return each day." Sharon Martell

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"[R]eaders needn’t share Pollock’s bleak perspective to fall under the spell of this book’s heady mix of grime, action and suicidal tendencies." Cherie Parker

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"False notes are rare, Pollock’s voice is fresh and full-throated, and while these stories travel negligible distances, even from one another, the best of them leave an indelible smear. … Grace barely flickers across these pages, but when it is sensed, Pollock’s characters almost invariably reject it, surrendering to nihilism, trying to forget they ever had a chance." Jonathan Miles

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The stories are grim, drenched in sorrow and regret. But the writing is vivid, spare and powerful." Bob Minzesheimer

Critical Summary

Critics agree that Knockemstiff is an outstanding debut, one born of experience. Pollock, who grew up in Knockemstiff, dropped out of high school to work in a meatpacking plant and then worked for 30 years in a paper mill. He turned to writing after he quit "drinking and drugging" and enrolled in the MFA program at Ohio State University. His eponymous town serves as the same binding force as Winesburg, Ohio, does in Sherwood Anderson’s story cycle, but Knockemstiff is an uglier, more grotesque place, with oozing sores visible everywhere. Critics commend that Pollock, despite his dark themes, suspends judgment and, in spare, graphic prose reminiscent of Raymond Carver and Cormac McCarthy, portrays his characters with wit and empathy. This powerful collection may be an uncomfortable read—but it’s worth every second.