Friday, September 19, 2008

Read this

This week in Sociology of Inequality, we read Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock. The title is the name of the Southeast Ohio town - a ghost town, really - in which the short-short stories take place. The author lived most of his life not far from there until starting at MFA program at the Ohio State University when he turned 40.

To call it "gritty" is an understatement. The second story slaps you with some brother-sister incest; drug use, domestic abuse, and sheer wracking poverty are close behind. There are events that are so bizarre that they have to be true - an alcoholic drinking from an ashtray when he forgets to bring a cup to the drive in, huffing Bactine, a woman who stashes fish sticks in her purse. Not light bedtime reading by any means, but solid, visceral writing about marginalization in Appalachia.

I felt almost ashamed at my periodic shock. The book is fiction, but the conditions exist. Knockemstiff is reality for so many people, and not just in Appalachia. There are sectors of American society that are profoundly disconnected from the relatively happy mainstream that most of us bloggers occupy. And they are much closer than you think. The book is difficult to get through, but certainly worth it.

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