When people talk about Knockemstiff, they often use the word, "gritty." The word kind of starts to lose its meaning. The stories in Knockemstiff are intense, that's for sure. There were a couple of spots in some of the stories where I had to put the book down for a minute and look away from the page. Rough things happen to the characters and the characters sometimes do horrible things. But, here's what's best about the collection: The compassion for these characters with which Pollock writes. He's able to take the "gritty" things that happen, the abandonments, the empty highs, the violence, etc. and use them to leave the reader with a sense of heartbreak and a sense of connection. That might sound funny. "Why would I want to feel connected to violence?" That's the risk of this read. To pick it up means you have to be willing to acknowledge that a couple of Bactine addicts, for example, might trigger your sense of empathy. Pollock writes in a stark, unapologetic, conversational style, which helps pique that sense of compassion and bring about the sense of connection in the reader. He's not looking down on Knockemstiff from a helicopter. Instead, he's looking at it from the seat of a beat up Chevy parked at the drive-in. I'd call it "immersion fiction," if I can make up a term.
Anyway, Knockemstiff is profound collection that is definitely worth picking up and reading. That's another thing, by the way. You won't have to pick it up too many times. The stories are quite gripping. You'll be through with it pretty quick.