Knockemstiff

Donald Ray Pollock

First Sentence:    Nettie Russell died in the spring, and left her grandson, Todd, an old Ford Fairline and a Maxwell House coffee jar with two thousand dollars in it, a fair sum of money in 1973.

This is a collection of short stories all set in and around Knockemstiff, Ohio. It is filled with characters almost too depraved to live in Bohane and yet, somehow, scarily, even more believable. It is from Donald Ray Pollock, a writer I don’t know much about but whose novel  The Devil All The Time is due to be published this month by Harvill Secker. After living with these stories for a few weeks now I’m definitely looking forward to this novel and I’ll be hunting it down when it’s published. These stories are best enjoyed individually and I certainly don’t recommend reading them back to back as it just might just get a little bit too much after a while.  Characters, themes and places often pop up in several different stories making this a complete world you can visit every now and then but not the type of place I recommend you spend a lot of time in. Unless you have an appetite for all the bad things you associate with small town America. This is like the movie Deliverance only harsher and more believable. The writing is excellent throughout, as are the stories and characters and at times they reminded me of darker Willy Vlautin creations. The story getting the ‘first sentence last sentence’ treatment is Schott’s Bridge and it tells the tale of Todd who falls in with the wrong crowd after the death of his grandmother. This is a fine collection of stories with a fully realised world, and Pollock is a writer I’ll be keeping an eye out for in the future.

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Last Sentence:    As he stood there, aching with sorrow and regret, he watched the water swallow it.

Last Sentence explained:    Todd grew up gay in Knockemstiff and never felt like he belonged. He longed to move away

The fantasy of someday coming back to Knockemstiff dressed in a shiny burgundy suit and carrying a leather briefcase was one that had kept both him and his grandmother going during the last weeks of her long illness.

After his grandmother dies he starts hanging round with Frankie. Before long he is doing drugs and one night, after he admits he is gay, Frankie beats him, rapes him, and steals all his cash. Todd then goes to Schott’s Bridge, a notorious suicide spot, and has a cigarette. He flicks the butt into the river below and this brings us up to the final sentence…

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