Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Pg. 69: Donald Ray Pollock's "Knockemstiff"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Donald Ray Pollock's Knockemstiff.

About the book, from the publisher:
In this unforgettable work of fiction, Donald Ray Pollock peers into the soul of a tough Midwestern American town to reveal the sad, stunted but resilient lives of its residents.

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 woebegone, baffled and depraved—but irresistibly, undeniably real. Rendered in the American vernacular with vivid imagery and a wry, dark sense of humor, these thwarted and sometimes violent lives jump off the page at the reader with inexorable force. 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.

With an artistic instinct honed on the works of Flannery O’Connor and Harry Crews, Pollock offers a powerful work of fiction in the classic American vein. Knockemstiff is a genuine entry into the literature of place.
Among the praise for the book:
“In Knockemstiff, Donald Ray Pollock gives us the impossible—fast, funny stories about the saddest people you’ll ever see in fiction. Here’s the America you haven’t seen since Jesus’ Son, only more heartbreaking. More absurd. More engaging than any new fiction in years.”
--Chuck Palahniuk

"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."
--New York Times

"This electrifying collection of linked stories uses the voices of the rural hamlet of Knockemstiff to create a coherent world of echoing themes and recurring characters that has the drive and impact off a fine novel. Pollock brings grace and precision to colloquial language, and the ferocious integrity of his vision is flat-out stunning. Pollock grapples with savagery and reveals primal tenderness. After every story in Knockemstiff I had to take a walk and let my head cool down. I keep reaching for some other writer to compare him with- maybe a Raymond Carver with hope and vitality, or a godless Flannery O'Conner - but Pollock is no shadow of anybody else. This is a powerful talent at work."
--Katherine Dunn, author of Geek Love

"Here is a collection of stories that are perhaps unique in our time. Donald Pollock tells a whopping good yarn, unambiguous and laced with sly irony, of the ordinary horrors of every day life. Wry and raw and poignant, these extraordinary stories are gritty with the yeast of folks caught in the act of being only too human. We all know some chucklehead from Knockemstiff, the guy who never had a chance, but keeps on plugging."
--Larry Heinemann, author of Paco's Story

"Knockemstiff is a powerful, remarkable, exceptional book that is very hard to read."
--Los Angeles Times
Learn more about Knockemstiff and the author at Donald Ray Pollock's website.

Donald Ray Pollock's writing has appeared in, or is forthcoming in, the New York Times, Third Coast, The Journal, Sou’wester, Chiron Review, River Styx, Boulevard, Folio, and The Berkeley Fiction Review.

The Page 69 Test: Knockemstiff.

--Marshal Zeringue