Friday, June 12, 2009

Catching Up #33: KNOCKEMSTIFF by Donald Ray Pollock

I dunno if this is every english major's experience, but it seemed like every young man in my college workshop classes was trying to be the next Bukowski. Every other class we'd be going over some douchebag's story about a down-and-out young man who gets fucked up, fights some guy and then cheats on his girlfriend. That'd be all well and good if any of the fuckers could write worth a good goddamn, but shit, you know how it is (or you don't in which case the Nerd envies you).

So you'll forgive the Nerd if he was a bit skeptical of Knockemstiff, a collection of stories about down-and-out losers in the down-and-out town of Knockemstiff, Ohio by a first time writer named Donald Ray Pollock.

Well sir, the Nerd fully admits that he was wrong to doubt. There's a reason everyone and their mom is talking about this Pollock's debut. That reason is that it is fan-fucking-tastic.

Unlike the poor saps in my writing classes (love you guys!), the stories of pain and debauchery in Knockemstiff feel like they were written by a survivor of such times. Now I don't know if Pollock has ever fucked a retarded girl and hated himself for it or smoked shitty weed that made his mouth bleed, but if you told me he did I would believe it, dear reader. I'd believe that shit in a fucking heart beat. Knockemstiff may be juicy and lurid and bleak but it always feels real, no matter how fucked up the story is.

And this shit is fucked up, dear reader, very much so. You're probably wonderin what the Nerd is doing reviewing some "literary"-sounding short story collection, thinking I've gone NPR on your collective asses or some shit.

Let me assure you of this: if you dig noir, you're gonna dig Knockemstiff.

The language of Pollock's stories is occasionally poetic but never unnecessarily so. It's the poetry of the down-trodden, the losers, the...fuck, I got all literary on your asses, didn't I? Sorry about that. Pollock's language is always about character (and his characters are always wonderfully scuzzy and grotesquely tragic) and never about wowing the eggheads.

And these stories aren't subtle character sketches where jack-shit happens, either. No they're violent, cathartic and horrifying stories, like a godless paint-huffing Flannery O'Connor or some shit.

But what especially makes Knockemstiff work for the Nerd is that it feels like you're reading a novel. I mean, yeah, I like a good short story as much as the next guy (Plots with Guns, Thuglit - that stuff consistently rocks my shit), but more often than not I'm not gonna pick up a book unless it is a novel (though I did love Expletive Deleted which was...goddamn it, what is the Nerd without hard and fast fucking rules!?) and Knockemstiff works both as something you dip into at your leisure or read in a fury like a kick ass novel.

And you better believe the Nerd tore through this beast like it was great fucking pulp.

So don't fear Knockemstiff, my dear crime junkies. Sure, it's a change of pace, but I guarantee you'll read it as fast as you would a fucking Huston novel.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Now this looks awesome.

Cat Averill said...

I started reading this on the bus/at my dentist thanks to you and I felt really dirty like the time my 50ish coworker saw me reading Lolita and asked, "Oh, what's this about?"

jedidiah ayres said...

Shiiiiit. DRP's stories will kick you in the nuts and molest you while you're down and then tell you such an achingly beautifully tragic thing that you'll let him do it again. Can't wait for his novel.