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Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Knockemstiff", the great American white trash book

Knockemstiff- Donald Ray Pollock 

Welcome to Knockemstiff, Ohio. Welcome to a rural nowhere, a black hole that absorbs everyone that survives (I don't dare  to say live) there and, for sure, a place from no-one escapes. Welcome to a human monster's parade, that will puzzle, terrify you as much as it grabs you. There's no redemption or mercy here. There might have been dreams, but misery and desolation easily corrupts them.

Donald Ray Pollock short stories have an structure that resembles the legendary "Winesburg, Ohio" by Sherwood Anderson, where stories and characters are, at times remotely, at times directly related, and where characters can be the centre of the tale, and then become a secondary actor in the next story. So when you reach the end of the book, you have the feeling of having read a novel of a place (and a time) on its own. It's a book about Knockemstiff, a place which may be the closest thing to hell on Earth. Seems the town, the hollow as it is referred on the book, really exists, being the are where the writer was born. But the amazing thing here is that Pollock manages to transcend the autobiography. Knockemstiff could be anywhere, and the reader will think there are many Knockemstiff out there. The Sex Pistols got famous by singing "No future no future for you no future for me" on "God Save the Queen". But in "Knockemstiff" the situation is much depressing. There's no future, because there's zero hope for the present.

The inhabitants of "Knockemstiff" are pure white trash fated for a life of alcohol, drugs, miserable sex, miserable works and the weight of their families, their bad choices and mistakes, their addictions, their inabilities to drive their lives and, of course, the place that surrounds them. They might be damned by the hollow where they live. But for sure, they are doomed. Pollock needs only just one sentence to resume it all.  "My father showed me how to harm people one night of August when I was seven years old". If we were talking about boxing, that would be an absolute knock-out.

Sensitive stomachs could be distressed by the cast of horrible and violent situations and human beings that swarm "Knockemstiff". I would ask you to persevere and going further than the (disgusting, brutal) surface, because this short stories deserve it. Pollock manages to avoid sentimentalisms or affectations, as well as repetitions. I have read in a review that the book is luckily amoral and I completely agree, being one , in my opinion, of the factors that makes his fiction so absorbing. There are no lessons here, just the cruel and raw "reality". Straight and without contemplations. And thanks to that, there are also credible feelings of desolation, frustration and shame in the condemned characters. As Raymond Carver would say, "No heroics, please". Even if the truth hurts. Even if it hurts so much that can turn you into a monster. I guess you realize by now what's going to be my conclusion: read "Knockemstiff". Just a final note. Read the great prologue from Kiko Amat after finishing the book.

SCORE: 8,25/10

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