This debut novel occasionally flashes the promise that the author showed in his highly praised short-story collection, but falls short of fulfilling it.
The unflinching, often hilarious stories in Knockemstiff (2008) drew considerable attention to a writer whose own story was as fascinating as his fiction. A mill worker for three decades in blue-collar Ohio (where he sets his fiction), Pollock belatedly earned an MFA from Ohio State and published his collection of stories in which themes and characters were so interwoven that it might have passed as a novel. It was inevitable that his next book would be an actual novel, and billed as such, but this isn't the total knockout that one might have expected. Instead, its various plot strands, which inevitably come together at the end, might have worked better as individual stories. Set again in rural, impoverished Knockemstiff and nearby Mead, the novel opens with the relationship of young Arvin Russell and his father, Willard, a haunted World War II vet who marries a beautiful woman and then watches her die from cancer. He alternates between praying and drinking, neither of which do much to alleviate his pain. In fact, his son "didn't know which was worse, the drinking or the praying." The tragic ways of the world (in a novel that sometimes aims at dark comedy) leave Arvin an orphan. As he's maturing into young adulthood, raised by his grandmother, the plot shifts include a huckster pair of religious revivalists, a preacher who preys on young girls and a husband-and-wife pair of serial killers (she seduces their victims, whom they call "models," and he photographs and kills them). Though there's a hard-bitten realism to the character of Arvin, most of the rest seem like gothic noir redneck caricature (some with latent homosexual tendencies).Â A piece of cheap motel wall art could stand as the aesthetic credo: "It served no purpose that he could think of, other than to remind a person that the world was a sorry-ass place to be stuck living in."
Pollock remains a singular stylist, but he has better books in him than this.ÂCopyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Pollock first triumphed with his story collection, Knockemstiff, about the Midwestern town of that name where he grew up and its sad but tough residents. Here he moves on to full-length fiction with a terse examination of America's violent underbelly. Lots of in-house excitement; watch.[Page 45]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
If Pollack's powerful collection Knockemstiff was a punch to the jaw, his follow-up, a novel set in the violent soul-numbing towns of southern Ohio and West Virginia, feels closer to a mule's kick, and how he draws these folks and their inevitably hopeless lives without pity is what the kick's all about. Willard Russell is back from the war, on a Greyhound bus passing through Meade, Ohio, in 1945 when he falls for a pretty waitress in a coffee shop. Haunted by what he's seen in the Pacific and by the lovely Charlotte, he finds her again, marries her and has a son, Arvin. But happiness is elusive, and while Willard teaches his only son some serious survival skills ("You just got to pick the right time," he tells him about getting back at bullies. "They's a lot of no-good sonofabitches out there"), Charlotte sickens, Willard goes mad--sacrificing animals and worse at his altar in the woods--and Arvin's sent to his grandmother Emma in Coal Creek. Emma's also raising Leonora, the daughter of a timid religious mother who was murdered, possibly by her father, Roy, the visiting preacher at the Coal Creek Church of the Holy Ghost Sanctified, who along with his guitar-playing, crippled cousin, Theodore, in a wheelchair after drinking strychnine to prove his love for Jesus, has disappeared. And there's on-the-take sheriff Lee Bodecker, whose sister Sandy and her perverted serial killer husband, Carl Henderson, troll the interstates for male hitchhikers he refers to as "models." Pollack pulls them all together, the pace relentless, and just when it seems like no one can ever catch a break, a good guy does, but not in any predictable way. (July)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC