A new author recommendation

My neighbor recently had his collection of short stories published by Doubleday. His name is Donald Ray Pollock, and the book is called Knockemstiff . I just finished reading the book and loved it. The primary purpose of this thread, with the kind permission of a certain twee moderator, is to bring this book to the attention of the readers of the SDMB community. We can discuss the book as well, of course.

A little about Don and the book. Don is 53 years old and was born in a community called Knockemstiff, Ohio. It’s not a town, it’s not even a crossroads, really. It’s a holler, a place to be from, now characterized by Wikipedia as a ghost town. Don dropped out of high school and worked in a meat-packing plant for a while, and then began a 30-plus year career at the Mead Paper Company mill in Chillicothe. By the time he left the mill, he had completed an under-graduate degree and was enrolled in the MFA program at Ohio State University, for which he has since completed the course work. This book and the first draft of a novel are his dissertation.

The book is a collection of eighteen stories, all set in Ross County, Ohio, spanning from the sixties to the present. The characters are people in difficult circumstances who make pretty bad decisions and usually reap the rewards. The circumstances are definitely outside of my experience, even though I live about twelve miles from Knockemstiff, but the characters are drawn from people who resemble folks on the fringes of my real life. The words used to describe it all are spare and powerful. One story, Dynamite Hole, begins:

I am somewhat of an aficionado of opening lines which grab the reader, and this and several others in Knockemstiff strike me as the equal of one of my favorites, John D. McDonald’s opening sentence in Darker Than Amber:

The dialog in Don’s book reminds me in a way of that in Elmore Leonard’s work. It’s not a direct resemblance, it’s more the sense that this is really how people talk, despite the fact that I have never actually engaged in conversations like a lot of those in the book.

Yesterday afternoon, Don signed some copies of the book for me and we talked for a while on his porch. He told me he was inspired to attempt this somewhat unlikely career by William Gay, who got his first book published at the age of fifty-six. That convinced him that perhaps it could be done. Here’s a quote from Don from the LA Times about his decision to try:

Now he’s got a book published by Doubleday and a novel on the way. Amazing stuff. Here is Don’s website. Thanks for reading this, and I hope those who are interested enjoy Knockemstiff.

Well, there’s capturing the reader’s attention through good writing, and there’s capturing the reader’s attention through lurid content. Your example falls in the latter category. Not that that alone means he’s a hack, but it’s something any hack could have done.

And I don’t think you meant to call a moderator twee, did you?

Reminders of Elmore Leonard and John D. McDonald - and the opening line you offer as an example?!?! I am so there. Dynamite Hole - heh.

I think this got reviewed in the NYTimes, too - I distinctly remember the book name from somewhere. What an accomplishment for someone to come from where he did to this - very cool.

Thanks for the heads up **Crotalus **- I’ll put it in my shopping cart…


You forgot one: capturing the reader’s attention with good writing, whacking them over the head with a lurid twist, and including a silly double-entendre (“f**king his sister in the dynamit hole” indeed) to capture that little note of Faulknerian white-trash condescension. I think this qualifies…

Twee is exactly the word I wanted. Check out the location in SkipMagic 's profile. It was meant to be a slightly-disguised reference to the mod in question, just a little joke.

As to the opening sentence that I liked and you didn’t, my reaction was more like WordMan’s than yours, but de gustibus and all that.

Oh, OK, it just came off as an insult to me, not being intimately familiar with the profile of the mod in question.

But this forum is largely about disputing matters de gustibus, and I didn’t see anything attention-grabbing about the sentence up to the word “fucking.” I do agree that the double entendre is silly, though.

I think I heard the author interviewed on NPR this Saturday? Sounded like he had a lot of gritty life experience to put into his writing. I am pleased to hear about people who start something ‘late’ in life and achieve success at it.

I’ve been hearing about this book. Entertainment Weekly liked it, and the critical summary in the latest issue of Bookmarks was favorable. The NY Times reviewer liked it too.

I liked the excerpt I read (can’t remember where), about the young guy living with his meth-head girlfriend’s family and taking care of her dad or grandpa who has Alzheimer’s (or is it end stage alcoholism?). Anyway, it was raw and a bit icky but I got the impression that Pollock has understanding (if not sympathy) for these people. I’ll be getting the book soon.

It’d be great if Pollock follows William Gay not just in the late career start but in the quality of the work.

Having got a bit of a William Kennedy/Cormac McCarthy vibe from what you’ve said and the reviews, I went ahead and ordered a copy. I like most of my neighbors but to date none of 'em have shared stories like this. I’m a tad envious.

I reviewed this book in my newspaper column. I can’t deny the situations are sordid, but Pollock is remarkably good, and there’s quite a story behind the author. Good on the OP for the mention.

For me, the whole sentence was attention-grabbing. Partially this is due to my own experiences and inclinations. I was in the process of imagining myself coming down from Mitchell Flats with just the sort of souvenirs the narrator had collected when I got smacked in the face with an image totally outside of my experience. The image, regardless of the word used to describe the crucial aspect, is a shock. The word used seems natural and fitting, and is not the source of the shock, in my view. That’s my take on it, and why I quoted it.

What paper was that, Sigmagirl, if you don’t mind saying?

I’m seventh in line for it at the library.

Akron Beacon Journal. It’s only a paragraph as it’s not a “local” book – too far away – but I thought the book was significant enough to warrant a mention.

Here is the link, if it works: http://www.ohio.com/lifestyle/books/16936041.html
I’ve never embedded a link before, so I’m just taking a flyer on doing it right.

Well, that wasn’t how I wanted it. I wanted to do it all pretty, so you could just click on the word here. How do y’all do that?

Linky no worky, alas.

(url=http://whatever it is)Whatever you want to call it(/url)

Now, just replace the ()s with .

Trying to answer all whom I haven’t already addressed directly without a flood of consecutive posts:

WordMan - I agree that the writing which preceded the shock was good and essential to the shock. I was living it until he saw Truman and his sister, then I knew I was in another world.

Savannah - Don told me yesterday that he had been interviewed by Scott Simon of NPR. Said he was scared to death talking to this voice he had heard so much on the radio.

AuntiePam - He has sympathy, believe me. His descriptions of these people are not based entirely on observation.

lieu - I had no inkling of the stories Don could tell. He told me a couple of years ago that he had quit the mill and was in the masters program at OSU, but I figured his intention was to teach. He didn’t mention that this was coming. I read about it in the newspaper. He’s a quiet guy.

Dung Beetle - There’s a waiting list at your library? Cool! Maybe someone will get impatient and buy a copy! :slight_smile:

You can click on the little symbol in the reply screen that looks like a globe and a chain link. It will prompt you to enter the word, then after you OK that, you paste the URL.