Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Gritty and Violent World of Donald Ray Pollock.

c. David Grim (taken 6/10/07)

There's nothing as invigorating as a good ol' hillbilly tale. In an age when Donald Trump gets to fire people on his own "reality" television show, it's refreshing to hear stories about the type of folks that will never get a shot at being an "apprentice" in Manhattan, or anywhere else for that matter. Yes indeed there are people on the outskirts and in the hollers across the US who struggle through aimlessly, with little hope of improving their stations in life. They huff Bactine, snort Meth, and consume Black Beauties by the handful. They neglect their kids and beat their wives. And yes, some of us like to read accounts of these activities that feature no redemption.

It's easy to level the charge that readers of such sordid stories are exploitative. But if that's the case, everyone who takes in the merest hint of American entertainment can be accused of the same thing. Conflict is indivisible from all art and amusement. If it were not so, there wouldn't be so many damned sports fans. Some consumers have mannered tastes, and yet others want over-the-top degraded decadence. For the latter, there exists the gritty stylings of one Donald Ray Pollock.

"Knockemstiff" (2008) is a collection of almost-but-not-quite-related stories loosely-based on a town in Southern Ohio that really doesn't even exist anymore. Pollack was born in this place, and there are probably some details included that he has experienced firsthand. But the characters are so tragic and beyond all chance of self-improvement that one suspects the author of a fair amount of misanthropy. He certainly doesn't shy away from the ugly stuff. And to make a list of such phenomena would be spoiling the experience of reading "Knockemstiff".

Suffice it to say that you might want a scrub-down under hygenic conditions after you have completed this book. No doubt you will also come out of it feeling happy and blessed that you have managed to avoid so many of the pitfalls of these poor anti-heroes. If there's no other reason to pick "Knockemstiff" up other than schadenfreude, than so be it.

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