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.