I just read Donald Ray Pollock’s debut story collection, Knockemstiff, which takes place in rural southern Ohio, in a town of the same name as the book. The stories are dark, deadly, and mythic depictions of something more than what you’d even call small town Ohio, a sort of gothic revision of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. Pollock’s voice is a fine-tuned instrument, and his depiction of rural, lower class life in Ohio is frightening and real despite the illusory nature of the prose. I can’t recommend another book at this moment more.
Pollock himself seems to be an interesting person. He worked in a paper mill in southern Ohio from age seventeen for thirty-two years, and then decided he needed to write. He’s in the MFA program at Ohio State University. I hope to meet him some day. He sounds amazing, and you can hear for yourself in this interview he did with Chuck Palahniuk, a writer who he has a bit in common with, in terms of looking at dark, strange behaviors in people, and also with the background of growing up in rural, working class areas of the United States. They have a conversation about this in the interview, and I found myself nodding, knowing exactly what they meant. The interview is one of the most genuine and interesting ones I’ve heard in a long time–they talk about so many different topics–so take a listen.
Here’s the New York Times review of the book, too.