Knockemstiff

Length: 6 hrs and 17 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (68 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In this unforgettable work of fiction, Donald Ray Pollock peers into the soul of a tough Midwestern American town to reveal the sad, stunted but resilient lives of its residents.

Spanning a period from the mid-'60s to the late '90s, the linked stories that comprise Knockemstiff feature a cast of recurring characters who are woebegone, baffled, and depraved - but irresistibly, undeniably real. Rendered in the American vernacular with vivid imagery and a wry, dark sense of humor, these thwarted and sometimes violent lives jump off the page at the listener with inexorable force. 

A father pumps his son full of steroids, so he can vicariously relive his days as a perpetual runner-up body builder. A psychotic rural recluse comes upon two siblings committing incest and feels compelled to take action. Donald Ray Pollock presents his characters and the sordid goings-on with a stern intelligence, a bracing absence of value judgments, and a refreshingly dark sense of bottom-dog humor. 

With an artistic instinct honed on the works of Flannery O’Connor and Harry Crews, Pollock offers a powerful work of fiction in the classic American vein. Knockemstiff is a genuine entry into the literature of place.

Audiobook Cast of Narrators:

"Real Life" read by Kirby Heyborne

"Dynamite Hole" read by Mark Bramhall

"Knockemstiff" read by Macleod Andrews

"Hair’s Fate" read by Andrew Eiden

"Pills" read by Kirby Heyborne

"Gianthomachy" read by David Garelick

"Schott’s Bridge" read by Matt Godfrey

"Lard" read by Macleod Andrews

"Fish Sticks" read by Dan Woren

"Bactine" read by Rob Shapiro

"Discipline" read by R.C. Bray

"Assailants" read by Dan Woren

"Rainy Sunday" read by Amy Landon

"Holler" read by Andrew Eiden

"I Start Over" read by Joe Ochman

©2008 Donald Ray Pollock (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“More engaging than any new fiction in years.... Knockemstiff gives us the impossible - fast, funny stories about the saddest people you’ll ever meet in fiction.” (Chuck Palahniuk)

“Pollock’s voice is fresh and full-throated.... His steely, serrated prose...calls to mind Harry Crews.” (The New York Times Book Review)

Knockemstiff is a powerful, remarkable, exceptional book.... Pollock knows these people, what they want and think and feel, and he takes us there without flinching.” (Los Angeles Times)

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

The Agony of Living It

"I'm beginning to believe that anything I do to extend my life is just going to be outweighted by the agony of living it."
- Donald Ray Pollock, "I Start Over" in Knockemstiff

Pollock's freshman effort is a series of short stories surrounding the Southern Ohio town of Knockemstiff (real town). The stories, like planets, orbit the dark sun of this sad, poor and pathetic American town. Each of the stories is like a bite from a rabid dog or a slap with a dirty hand. It is an infection and is hard to escape once read. It clings to the reader like a stink, like a nightmare, like a memory of corruption. Each of the stories seems to bounce between feeling a bit like an incestuous child of Churck Palahniuk and Flannery O'Connor delivered in the unwashed, chipped bathtub of Raymond Carver.

Here are the individual stories:

1. Real Life - ☠☠☠☠☠
2. Dynamite Hole - ☠☠☠
3. Knockemstiff - ☠☠☠☠
4. Hair's Fate - ☠☠☠
5. Pills - ☠☠☠☠☠
6. Giganthomachy - ☠☠☠☠☠
7. Schott's Bridge - ☠☠☠☠
8. Lard - ☠☠☠☠
9. Fish Sticks - ☠☠☠☠☠
10. Bactine - ☠☠☠☠☠
11. Discipline - ☠☠☠☠☠
12. Assailants - ☠☠☠
13. Rainy Sunday - ☠☠☠☠
14. Holler - ☠☠☠☠
15. I start over - ☠☠☠☠☠
16. Blessed - ☠☠☠
17. Honolulu - ☠☠☠☠
18. Fights - ☠☠☠☠☠

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Fiction?

Being from SE Ohio, this book borders on truth! This is exactly how life is here. The cold hard life of the people left behind by society in the foothills of the Appalachians.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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!!!!!

Great collection of shorts! This is my first experience with this author but definitely just the start- I'm now compelled to immediately find & read everything I can find by the guy! These stories were lean & mean, & I'm totally hooked! Ranging from bone-deep apathy to almost maniacal desperation, the stories are stark, sometimes brutal, in their portrayals of the people populating them, while making matter of fact certain subjects, behaviors, & situations that most people either are completely ignorant of or else avoid altogether. Understandably, as oftentimes they are uncomfortable reminders of the baser sides of human nature & glaringly showcase our species' unfortunately casual potential for overwhelming ugliness, while most of us would rather view these things as individualistic aberrations as opposed to the almost inevitable outcome of ignorance, neglect, abuse, poverty, isolation, etc that runs rampant thruou our history.
Personally, however, I have no qualms accepting that humans, for all their enormous potential for all things good, are just as capable of wallowing in the muck of everything opposite.
So while its easy to see how unflinchingly honest portrayals of human behavior prompt uncomfortable feelings for a lot of people, I would only suggest that they try to put that aside, & continue reading with the knowledge that these things are an actual reality for somebody today, & maybe take a moment to appreciate the differences in your own life.
Regardless, I for one, am glad to have come across this writer, & look forward to reading whatever else he's written. Thank you.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

American Quagmire

In the dead-end southern Ohio hollow called Knockemstiff, most characters would assume that their gray and gloomy lives could never improve. And they’d be right.

Drunk abusive fathers, abandoned mothers, delinquent teens on speed. Nobody in this collection of strangely seductive stories likes anybody else. They inhabit a world of white bread with baloney gravy, RC cola, and lard sandwiches, living in a perpetual fog of booze and drugs.

“The damp gray sky covered southern Ohio like the skin of a corpse. The landscape was a seemingly endless row of squat metal buildings full of cheap junk for sale—carpet remnants, used furniture, country crafts… but still, the cold air blowing through the windows was refreshing after a month spent penned up in the trailer.”

The fictional Knockemstiff in this collection of short stories figures prominently in Pollack’s first novel, “The Devil All the Time,” that takes some of the people and places and the same miserable circumstances into a spellbinding book.

Witness the lives of these unfortunates and feel better about your own, maybe because they are so vividly realistic. Although fiction, it is sad that these accounts are so grounded in the bleak reality of Appalachia.

An all-star cast of narrators gives “Knockemstiff” even more impact.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Hits the Mark

Great book in the same vein of the work of Harry Crews, but is likewise not for the faint of heart. The gritty, brutal, and downright depressing details of life in the middle of nowhere are tangibly twisted and stick with you well after you're finished. Pollock has an artful way of tying the holler and its history together with intersecting events and recurring characters. The narrators do a great job on delivery; I have this in hard copy, but the reading gives it some serious character.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Interesting twist of fate

The summary indicated a series of stories loosely connected to each other; that's a interesting twist. Most of the stories are tragic and dark, but real enough. Narrators where very good. An enjoyable listen, though at time dark and depressing.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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WOW!!!!

Before I read this book I read The Devil All The Time,and I absolutely loved it.My favorite kinds of books are ones that you can’t stop thinking about after you finish it.That was true with Devil it was maybe the grittiest book I’ve ever read.I decided to give Knockemstiff a shot and it is INTENSE!!!Donald Ray Pollock may be my new favorite author.The narration in this book is top notch too

1 person found this helpful