Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollack
Near as I can tell, there once was a Knockemstiff, Ohio, but it’s a ghost town now, and the collection of related stories in Knockemstiff imagines some variant of what the modern-day version of the town could be, or what it would have become. It shows it as violent, stupid, and cruel. The stories and the characters are both rough-and-tumble, but sing with natural veracity and rich intent.
Generally I much prefer a novel to a book of short stories, but these connect neatly together. The locale is the same small town, which is so small the characters have no choice but to interact with one another.
Here’s a few scattered sentences to give an indication of the tone:
The first sentence from “Bactine”: I’d been staying 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 smokehole”
From “Pills”: “We ran over the chicken three days after we stole the pills.”
From “Real Life”: I looked over at the old man, and he screamed ‘Fuck him up!’ I hit him again and bright red blood sprayed out of his nose”
I really enjoyed these stories. This was Pollack’s first book, but his website says he’s working on a novel. I can’t wait. Grade: B+