Donald Ray Pollock - Knockemstiff (4 stars)

Donald Ray Pollock - Knockemstiff


(Harvill Secker)

Knockemstiff, Ohio, is so deprived it doesn’t register on maps anymore. This debut set of interconnected shorts about its people by former resident Donald Ray Pollock is unlikely to make anyone want to find the town quickly, even if the author does insist his neighbours were actually ‘good people’. When it comes to murderers, perverts and drug-crazies, fictional or otherwise, why take the risk?

‘Dynamite Hole’ sees a draft-dodging loner rape and bludgeon to death two young siblings he spies committing incest; in ‘Lard’, bullies throw darts at a fat kid in exchange for bong hits, while ‘Bactine’ finds a pair of losers snorting themselves stupid in a donut shop car park. As if it needs stating, this is tragic, brutal, sad and depraved stuff, but between the misery, there are deft rays of humanity, dark humour and hope that shine like the sun through pin pricks in a set of filthy curtains, marking Pollock’s arrival as a fascinating new voice in American low-life literature.

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