Knockemstiff Review

I finished the book Knockemstiff the other night and I wanted to write notes on these stories I am admiring more and more.

I am also interested in the story behind the story “Knockemstiff”–almost as interesting as the stories and I assume that is why this book has gotten quite a bit of press and reviews.

According to his book sleeve and this video from Ohio State’s web site, Pollock was a factory worker before quitting to attend the MFA program. He published several stories and was successful enough to quit his job. His book has received much acclaim. I first heard about it on the Chuck Palahniuk web site–one reason I go there because Palahniuk is always pointing out new writers and writers that have influenced him in some way. (That was how I found Amy Hempel.) But in fact, Palahniuk wrote “Pollock gives us the saddest people we’ll ever meet in fiction.”

This made me think of Lolo and the failure of my own writing!

What attracted me and hooked me into these stories was the sense of place and indirect communal relationships–also the peripheral relationships. Pollock writes about Ohio and the little town of Knockemstiff–and he knows place so well and I am envious. In fact, place doesn’t quite capture what I mean; I guess I mean the landscape. And I would like to know Huerfano or at least the Pueblo County and the Huerfano County I grew up in and match Pollock’s knowledge of place.

The title story “Knockemstiff” is so memorable for me. The story follows a character who has had several false starts leaving Knockemstiff, Ohio and has come to the realization he will not leave Ohio even though his highschool love is about to leave town. There is such a feel of small town blues and hurt. Pollock draws his characters failure to move forward or beyond the small town as such a loss the effect is heartbreaking.

Those are meaning thoughts though and so my thoughts on form are that he is doing something pretty complex with these first person stories. A student and I sat in my office just last week discussing the differences of third and first person stories and the advantages of different means of perceptions. Third person omniscient and even roaming third or third objective seems like such a wide scope and according to my student was the only thing he ever wrote in. I tried to convince him that first person can be ust as evocative in capturing not just thought process but also consciousness. My student was just informing me of preference but again I think there is much about first person that works so well–like in Johnson’s Jesus’ Son or in Diaz’ Drown.

We talked about the risk of being the character and also being the author and trying to interject meaning or theme instead of character rather than more subtleties. But writing from a certain pov is about practice and challenging the individual.

But Pollock seems to do that so well–he knows place and character of his small towns but he also knows when and where to direct reader to theme and meaning without being too overt as some of my first person stories become.

Once in Tracy Daugherty’s office he pointed to a moment in one of my stories and said “here it is. Right there.” I asked him “what?” And then he explained that at that moment in the story and scene where the character is disconnected from the author and being fully utilized–fully created. Meaning the voice is a character rather than just the author pretending. he said, “Your character has no idea what is going to happen or cannot see past his own nose like real life and that is good.” I have been searching for those moments in my first person stories and trying to capitlaize on them as much as possible.

And this is what Pollock is doing so well in his stories. Capturing character in first person rather than just capturing his own voice just telling stories.

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john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

One thought on “Knockemstiff Review”

  1. The revised site is beautiful, and this little essay/review is especially nice. You should contact some of the university presses and send in a proposal for a book of essays about “failed writing.” You already have several here.

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