Welcome to Knockemstiff, Ohio, the unhallowed playground of Donald Ray Pollock's imagination. This group of short stories is different than most, as the stories are all interconnected creating an almost novelesque story line. Each story is located in Knockemstiff, and is narrated by a different resident, except the first and the last; these are both narrated by Bobby. Doing this provides a frame to the intriguing collage Pollock creates with his snapshot like stories. In the first story we see Bobby as a young boy; he's at the drive in with his mom and dad. His mom forgets dad's favorite cup and he refuses to drink out of the bottle like an alcoholic, so he drinks out of the ashtray instead. We begin to see that this type of thing is pretty common, and that both Bobby and his mom become more leery the more dad drinks. Bobby and his father share a rare bonding moment, what appears to be their first and last, when they get into a fight with another father and son, and Bobby is praised for whopping the other boy. Bobby is never able to regain that connection with his father, which becomes apparent in the last story. Here Bobby is a grown man, trying to fulfill his AA obligations, but can't seem to come clean where his family is concerned. His dad, although he's lost his physical prowess, still manages to browbeat his family into submission. Of all the stories in this collection this is the most optimistic.
Knockemstiff, named after a fight between two women over a man, is a place where money has no value, sex and drugs are the only currency worth anything, and a useful inheritance is a prescription. The cycle of abuse is so strong here that it is virtually unavoidable. The characters all have a unique voice and each one reveals a different, depraved aspect of Knockemstiff. Characters meander in and out of each other's stories, allowing us a more complete picture of than is provided by the characters themselves. What is clear is that nothing good can come out of Knockemstiff, Ohio, nothing that is except Donald Ray Pollock and this spectacularly bleak set of stories. You'll love to read this book, the writing is superb, and even learn to love Knockemstiff-which is a real city-despite, or maybe because of its self destructive nature.