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3.97  ·  Rating Details ·  5,430 Ratings  ·  795 Reviews
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-sixties to the late nineties, the linked stories that comprise Knockemstiff feature a cast of recurring characters who are woebegone, baffled and depravedâ”but irres
Hardcover, 206 pages
Published March 18th 2008 by Doubleday (first published January 1st 2008)
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The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray PollockWinter's Bone by Daniel WoodrellKnockemstiff by Donald Ray PollockDry Bones in the Valley by Tom BoumanCrooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
Country Noir
239 books — 187 voters
The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsBreaking Dawn by Stephenie MeyerThe Host by Stephenie MeyerThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann ShafferCity of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
Best Books of 2008
1,551 books — 6,860 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Here's a Life Coaching tip:

If you're given the choice between living in Knockemstiff, Ohio, or having your naughty bits gnawed to shreds by a ravenous honey badger
…the correct selection is B.

This is my first experience with Donald Ray Pollock experience, and I'm already a devout admirer of his talent as a storyteller. This is terrific stuff...but, ho doggie, can this man write himself into your happy zone and shit bleak all over it. Seriously, Knockemstiff is unrelentingly grim. The setting, t
Dan Schwent
Knockemstiff is a collection of 18 short stories set in Knockemstiff, Ohio.

Reviewing a book of short stories is a tricky business, especially if you haven't been reviewing them as you go. Furthermore, I'm not a huge short story fan so I don't read collections unless one comes along that will knock my pants off and sell them to the highest bidder before I get a chance to put them back on. Knockemstiff is that short story collection.

Eighteen stories of redneckery most foul are contained in this bo
Jul 07, 2012 Kemper rated it really liked it
I don’t know if I should consider this redneck noir or hick lit, but I like it.

Per his bio, Donald Ray Pollock actually grew up in a tiny town called Knockemstiff in southern Ohio, and he spent over thirty years working in a paper mill. It shows in the collection of short stories that are such authentic and gritty portrayals of rural poverty that you’ll feel like you just moved into a double wide with only a garbage bag full of dirty clothes and a case of warm Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Each one of these
Dec 26, 2013 karen rated it really liked it
Shelves: hey-shorty, grit-lit

...i'm beginning to believe that anything i do to extend my life is just going to be outweighed by the agony of living it

i'm pretty sure i can't say anything better to sum up the collection, so for once, i am going to keep it short. very enjoyable short stories - occasionally gratuitous, not as good as The Devil All the Time, but still tremendous.

some things deserve the short-and-sweet treatment.
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Feb 02, 2015 Paquita Maria Sanchez rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
One reason to wait until you're 50 to begin your career as an author is that you plan to write stuff like this. No one should put their poor mother through that, at least not while all her faculties are still in order, and certainly not when some of the material appears to be at least marginally autobiographical. There's a story in this collection where a kid gets his kicks huffing Bactine. Yeah. Bactine. A google search of what I thought for a second was some under-reported bath-salts-esque ...more
Richard Derus
Apr 14, 2013 Richard Derus rated it really liked it
This review has been revised and can be found at Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud.
Jun 10, 2012 Stephanie rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, hicklit, 2012, ohio
If you are feeling kind of crappy, like your life sucks and it couldn't get any worse, pick up a copy of Knockemstiff and give it a read. Soon you will be saying to yourself "Hmmm, well at least I'm not a crackhead, huffer, morbidly obesse whore, alcoholic or steroid user........I just can't stand my boss". (unless you are any of those apologies.)

"I woke up thinking I'd pissed the bed again, but it was just the sticky spot from where Sandy and Me fucked the night before. Those kin
Jan 16, 2012 Greg rated it really liked it
"Jill's always on me about my clogged pipes, but I'm a big guy-they don't call me Big Bernie for nothing-and I crave junk food like a baby craves the tit. Besides, I'm beginning to believe that anything I do to extend my life is just going to be outweighed by the agony of living it."

Welcome to Knockemstiff, Ohio. Hometown of Donald Ray Pollock and literary home of a whole slew of fucked up redneck, hillbilly, poor white trash.

What is it about white trash that makes for such good readin'? I thin

I'm going to start this review with a humble caveat -- there's no way I can do these stories (or Pollock's writing) any sense of justice. But if I can get you to pause whatever it is you're doing, if I can get you to put down whatever else you happen to be reading, for just a moment to think about this book then I will be a very happy woman indeed.

What can I say? Knockemstiff knocked me flat on my ass. The interconnected stories are an assault on the psyche - a kind of brutalization lined with
Paul Bryant
May 28, 2013 Paul Bryant rated it really liked it

Well, the list of great contemporary American short story writers goes on and here’s another guy to add to it. I’m on a roll – one pitch-black collection about the underclass after another, from Frank Bill to Jordan Harper and now Donald Pollock. I can’t see this happening in the UK so I’m kind of jealous. The only book I’ve got to put up against these guys is The Acid House by Irvine Welsh. I need to do more research – where are the tales of the British underclass? (And while I'm on the subject
Richard Vialet
This debut short story collection by Donald Ray Pollock is comprised of hard little nuggets of country grit that follow a variety of individuals living in and around the small Ohio holler of Knockemstiff, a place based on Pollock's own hometown. It's hard to look back on the book and single out stories for review because each story truly does feel like part of a whole, making the book feel more cohesive than most story collections. Many of the characters are referenced in more than story, and ...more
Wayne Barrett

Great short story collection.

This thing is a raunchy, bad to the bone ensemble. In some ways this thing is hard to digest because it hits so close to home. As much as we of the human race like to paint ourselves as a higher species, Pollock reminds us with stories of a human condition that is oh so much a reality that we are really not that far removed from ancestors who lived in caves, dragged their women around by the hair and beat the shit out of each other with clubs.

A midwestern trip thro
Andrew Smith
Feb 11, 2015 Andrew Smith rated it liked it
Shelves: noir-hardboiled
I loved The Devil All the Time, Pollock's follow up novel so I thought I'd go back to his first book, Knockemstiff (hereafter referred to as K). K begat TDATT in that it is a series of short stories or vignettes set in Pollock's actual home town called (yeah) K. TDATT is a novel featuring one of the characters introduced in K.

The stories or scenes in K are all impactful if desperately sad and grim. All of the participants are what would commonly be described (where I live) as drug-ridden, low-l
Bill  Kerwin
Apr 18, 2016 Bill Kerwin rated it really liked it
Shelves: gothic, short-stories

I grew up in Cincinnati, and whenever I read Raymond Carver, all the characters seem to speak to me with an Appalachian accent. Wrong of course, but it feels right to me.

Here comes Pollock's "Knockemstiff," set in the hopeless oxycontin hollers of Southern Ohio, and now those Carver-like characters of Appalachia have a fine writer who knows how to give them voice.

Half the stories (the first fourth of the book and the last fourth) are very fine indeed. and the others--although they often seem sel
Mar 29, 2012 Maciek rated it really liked it
My father showed me how to hurt a man one August night at the Torch Drive-in when I was seven years old. It was the only thing he was ever any good at.
-Donald Ray Pollock, Real Life

Knockemstiff is a real place. It's a small town in southern Ohio, where Donald Ray Pollock grew up. The place supposedly owes its name to a preacher's advice: when a woman came to him and confessed her suspicions that her husband was cheating on her, he is told to have replied "knock'em stiff". An image search will sh
Dec 23, 2013 Tfitoby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dreams and fears are contained in this collection, mostly what happens to poor uneducated people when their fears and reality destroy their dreams.

This is the story of a town told through vignette like short stories of the towns residents. It's a poor town, that keeps its people trapped, that slowly wears down even the most optimistic dreamers until they too are fucking a childs toy, inhaling chemicals from a plastic bag, killing themselves and others, and being inexplicably drawn back to the ho
Feb 03, 2012 Lou rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: july-read
Stories set mostly in Knockemstiff and some centred round A Paper mill where the author used to work. I have just completed recently reading his very good first novel The Devil All the Time which had some memorable characters and a brutal plot. With the novel being the first work of his I have read my expectations where risen high on the beginning of reading these short stories in his writing prose and they fell short in satisfying my appetite for his work slightly. These short stories do have ...more
Jun 04, 2008 Laura rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
"As my parents' bed thumped loudly against the floor in the next room, I lapped the blood off my knuckles. The dried flakes dissolved in my mouth, turning my spit to syrup. Even after I'd swallowed all the blood, I kept licking my hands. I tore at the skin with my teeth. I wanted more. I would always want more."

So ends "Real Life," the first story in Donald Ray Pollock's knockout of a debut. It seems that every review I've read uses two phrases to describe this collection: "pulls no punches" and
Jun 04, 2012 Bill rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I'm glad it's over.

Knockemstiff is Donald Ray Pollock's first publication, comprising of
several vignettes of the residents of Knockemstiff, Ohio. This is a sad
place, populated by what can only be described as white trash hillbillies.

Drug use is rampant, as is deviant sexuality, and while I am in no way
a prude or naive in the ways of various intoxicants, by the time I
finished this collection I couldn't take any more. The best thing about
this reading experience was being able to put it down and ap
Mar 24, 2013 Jacob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
January 2011

All the ugly parts of humanity are crowded into a single town--and all of those ugly parts trying to escape. They rarely do. Donald Ray Pollock's first (and hopefully not last) collection of stories is thuggish and brutal; reading it, however, is a delicate act. If you try to speed through Knockemstiff in a few days, like I did the first time I read it back in spring 2008, you may have to fight back the urge to curl up on the bathroom floor and not talk to anyone for about a week. On
Paul Capps
Aug 22, 2016 Paul Capps rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2016, fiction
Overall a good read if your in the mood for this kinda thing. Not something that would be my go to for a nice pick-me-up, but if I'm in the mood for something between Tom Waits and The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, Knockemstiff fits the bill nicely.

As a collection of short stories, it's easy and fairly quick to read, and though the stories range from disgusting to bizarre and heartbreaking, it never felt like there was a dull story or throwaway.

Very good read if your in the mood f
Say howdy to a bunch of wife-beating, lowlife, scumbag ne'er do wells. And while you're at it, don't forget to nod hello to the rest of the drunks, drug addicts, rapists, racists, and murderers.

They're all residents and prisoners of a town called Knockemstiff.

The stories in this book are well-written, but gawd...are they ever depressing! All, not some, but ALL the characters are hopeless, unsavory and unsanitary bottom feeders. They plow through their miserable lives, just waitin' for death. For
Jul 22, 2012 Adam rated it it was ok
Americans used to be titillated by tales of the Dark Continent; now they are titillated by closer-to-home tales of the Rural Wasteland. Come, ye gentrified reading public, and marvel at the escapades of the proud, wayward savages of the impoverished Midwest! Behold brisk tales of abusive daddies, huffers, whores, country-fried criminals and incestuous chillun. The author worked in a paper mill for decades, so you know he's the real deal. You've probably never even seen a paper mill from a ...more
Two recent story recent story collections represent a particular strain of American short story writing represented by master such as Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver and also the harsh viewpoint on American life found in Dashiell Hammett, James M Cain, and Nathaniel West. These two collections are Knockemstiff by Donald ray Pollock and Dead Boys by Richard Lange. Set in the wildly disparate environments of low rent L.A. and the hollow of Knockemstiff, Ohio. One urban and one rural but both ...more
May 07, 2008 Kevin rated it it was amazing
Yep. I'll put it on my all-time faves list. Donald Ray seems to be working on a much higher, much riskier level than any other new writer out there. This set of slightly-connected stories (they all take place in Knockemstiff, Ohio) is so constantly great that I couldn't help but shake my head. Some people I've talked with about this book have suggested it's too brutal for them to read in long stretches but I found that Pollack's bleak narratives were often spiced up with enough strange details ...more
Sep 01, 2015 Panagiotis rated it it was amazing
Η Αμερικάνικη επαρχία του Οχάιο, μιας μικρής κωμόπολης, το Νόκεμστιφ, όπου κατατρέχει τους παγιδευμένους πολίτες με παραλλαγές του ζόφου: δυστυχία, ατυχία, φτώχια, αμορφωσιά. Σα να έχουν βαλτώσει όλα, η ελπίδα να έχει εγκαταλείψει τους ανθρώπους στον αλκοολισμό, την βία, τα δυσλειτουργικά σπίτια, τα ναρκωτικά. Λωποδύτες, μουρλοί και γυναίκες εκπορνευμένες και τσαλαπατημένες, όλοι χτυπημένοι από την ατυχία που περιφέρεται σαν κατάρα σε εκείνα τα μέρη. Είναι και εκείνοι οι λίγοι άνθρωποι, που νέοι ...more
Jun 26, 2012 Marvin rated it really liked it
According to author Donald Ray Pollock, Knockemstiff is an actual place, although I find it hard to believe that any place can be as depressing as the Knockemstiff Pollock portrays in his book of the same name. It is a collection of short stories centering around the residents of that town and they are loosely connected to each other. Characters tend to weave in and out of the stories like pesky moths. These tales are hard-hitting, repulsive and full of the kind of folks you do not want to be ...more
Apr 10, 2014 Lance rated it it was amazing
Man, this guy can write. What a nice change of pace after giving up on two books (Feed and Geek Love) and forcing myself to get through another (Ready Player One).
Feb 06, 2008 Troy rated it it was ok
Don't get me wrong; the writing is good, and the acts of the characters are unapologetic and seem to be basic fucntions of their personalities. But I simply cannot read the inner thoughts of a segment of the population that would sooner call me nigger and blame me for their lot rather than the very fact they're stuck in a dead-end life. I'm not emotionallly involved in the book, and started to actualy root for them to screw each other's life up.

Others have remarked how touching the book was; I s
Gregory Baird
Dec 29, 2014 Gregory Baird rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fans of Chuck Palahniuk or Denis Johnson
“Forgetting our lives might be the best we’ll ever do."

The stories found In “Knockemstiff,” Donald Ray Pollock’s raw and powerful literary debut, are not for the faint of heart. Brutal and uncompromising, they capture the hardscrabble lives of the residents of Knockemstiff, Ohio – the very same town that Pollock comes from (although he cautiously points out in his acknowledgments that the actual residents of his hometown are really “good people who never hesitated to help someone in a time of
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Donald Ray Pollock was born in 1954 and grew up in southern Ohio, in a holler named Knockemstiff. He dropped out of high school at seventeen to work in a meatpacking plant, and then spent thirty-two years employed in a paper mill in Chillicothe, Ohio. He graduated from the MFA program at Ohio State University in 2009, and still lives in Chillicothe with his wife, Patsy. His first book, ...more
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“I'm beginning to believe that anything I do to extend my life is just going to be outweighed by the agony of living it.” 45 likes
“A lot of people get the wrong impression, think there's something romantic or tragic about hitting bottom.” 21 likes
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