Friday, November 9, 2012

Tales of the Battleground State of Ohio, Part Three

I've been blogging about the powerful short story collection "Knockemstiff" by
Donald Ray Pollock.

As I mentioned, this is an amazing compilation, but it's crafted only in the darkest hues of human behavior.  Many of the stories involve children, and I can't recall a single parent that you'd call admirable.  Generally, the fathers are drunk and abusive, and the mothers are beaten into submission by their husbands.  Even single mothers don't get to be admirable: the single mother in the story "Giganthomachy" seems to be inciting her only son to have sex with her (although it hasn't happened by the end of the story).  I don't even have a name for her psychopathology.

All the stories take place, wholly or partially, in or near the rural Ohio town of Knockemstiff.  The author has generously included a hand-drawn map.  There are 37 houses, bridges, stores and other landmarks drawn on the map.

For no good reason, I wondered if I could correlate the perversions, abuses, and bad behavior in the collection with the 37 images on the map.  In other words, are there 37 perversions in these 18 stories?  And, if so, could I match them up with the 37 locations on the map? (Gay-bashing at Todd's Fish Camp!  Incest at the Dynamite Hole!)

The answer: not even close.  By my count, I went past 37 before I got halfway through the book.

In the second story alone, there is: incest between underage children, homelessness, blasphemy of a sort I'd never imagined, a peeping Tom, severely disturbed war veterans, trapping a man and killing him via poisonous snakes, rape and child murder!  Oh, and a man mimes a sexual encounter by holding a dead copperhead to his face and kissing it.  All this in a 10 page story!  (One of the best stories in the collection, by the way.)

So "Knockemstiff" is not for the faint of heart.  But it is a hell of a collection.

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