Joe Foster, buyer, Maria's Bookshop, Durango, Colo.

Donald Ray Pollock's Knockemstiff [Doubleday, Mar.] is a beautifully written but undeniably disturbing exploration of the missing soul of a small Ohio town. The violence, ignorance, boredom, desperation and substance-induced, self-destructive behavior of each character should appeal to those literary Tom Waits—loving hipsters who are so hard to shop for. Pollock breathes life into the lifeless and lost with a series of short stories, all with the common theme of surviving (or merely withstanding) the squalor of Knockemstiff. Murder, incest, armed robbery, violent alcoholics, toothless huffers and semi-suicidal pill-poppers all coalesce into a vivid collage of torpor and pathos with surprising moments of hope and peace, but rarely of redemption. I was constantly reminded of folks from my family or my less comfortable past, and finished it feeling, upsettingly, pretty good about myself.