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From the acclaimed author of Knockemstiff?called ?powerful, remarkable, exceptional? by the Los Angeles Times?comes a dark and riveting vision of America that delivers literary excitement in the highest degree.
In The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock has written a novel that marries the twisted intensity of Oliver Stone?s Natural Born Killers with the religious and Gothic over?tones of Flannery O?Connor at her most haunting.
Set in rural ...
From the acclaimed author of Knockemstiff—called “powerful, remarkable, exceptional” by the Los Angeles Times—comes a dark and riveting vision of America that delivers literary excitement in the highest degree.
In The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock has written a novel that marries the twisted intensity of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers with the religious and Gothic overtones of Flannery O’Connor at her most haunting.
Set in rural southern Ohio and West Virginia, The Devil All the Time follows a cast of compelling and bizarre characters from the end of World War II to the 1960s. There’s Willard Russell, tormented veteran of the carnage in the South Pacific, who can’t save his beautiful wife, Charlotte, from an agonizing death by cancer no matter how much sacrificial blood he pours on his “prayer log.” There’s Carl and Sandy Henderson, a husband-and-wife team of serial killers, who troll America’s highways searching for suitable models to photograph and exterminate. There’s the spider-handling preacher Roy and his crippled virtuoso-guitar-playing sidekick, Theodore, running from the law. And caught in the middle of all this is Arvin Eugene Russell, Willard and Charlotte’s orphaned son, who grows up to be a good but also violent man in his own right.
Donald Ray Pollock braids his plotlines into a taut narrative that will leave readers astonished and deeply moved. With his first novel, he proves himself a master storyteller in the grittiest and most uncompromising American grain.
"Flannery O'Connor's brutal Wise Blood looks like Sense and Sensibility next to this finely woven, throat-stomping Appalachian crime story."
Praise for The Devil All the Time:
"Pollock's first novel, The Devil All the Time, should cement his reputation as a significant voice in American fiction. ...[He] deftly shifts from one perspective to another, without any clunky transitions—the prose just moves without signal or stumble, opening up the story in new ways again and again...where any prime-time television show can incite nail-biting with a lurking killer, Pollock has done much more. He's layered decades of history, shown the inner thoughts of a collage of characters, and we understand how deeply violence and misfortune have settled into the bones of this place. The question is much more than whether someone will die—it is, can the cycle of bloodletting break? This applies both to the people Pollock so skillfully enlivens as it does to the place he's taken as his literary heritage."—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times
"The Devil All the Time...fulfills the promise in [Pollock's] 2008 short-story collection, Knockemstiff, named after his real-life hometown, where life as is tough as its name suggests. His fictional characters find ways to make it tougher. Devil, as violent as the bloodiest parts of the Old Testament...invites comparisons to Flannery O'Connor and Raymond Carver, who mined the grace and guilt in the hopeless lives of lost souls....But it's not so much what happens as how Pollock, with the brutal beauty of spare writing, brings it all together."—Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today
"If Pollock’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 ship. 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, possibility 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.” Pollock 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."—Publishers Weekly (starred)
"The God-fearing hard-luck characters who populate Donald Ray Pollock’s debut novel, The Devil All the Time (Doubleday), move through the southern outlands of Ohio and the isolated hollows of West Virginia like figures in a collective nightmare of poverty, addiction, superstition, and crime. Sprung from their rough histories, they mostly prey on their own troubled, downtrodden kin and kind.
Pollock—who spent three decades working at an Ohio paper mill before his 2008 story collection, Knockemstiff (the name of his real-life hometown), garnered widespread acclaim—doesn’t get a word wrong in this super-edgy American Gothic stunner. Here are World War II combat vet Willard Russell and his young son, Arvin, at an outdoor shrine the father has constructed in a fruitless attempt to keep his beautiful young wife from dying of cancer: 'They knelt down and Arvin glanced over at his father’s skinned knuckles…the sounds traveling up the hill from the holler were especially clear that night…the wild hoots and jeers of the drunks reminded the boy of the hunter lying bloody in the mud. His father had taught that man a lesson he would never forget. He closed his eyes and began to pray.'
The flawless cadence of Pollock’s gorgeous shadow-and-light prose plays against the heinous acts of his sorrowful and sometimes just sorry characters, such as lawless preacher Roy and his wheelchair-bound, guitar-playing, pedophile sidekick, Theodore, who stay one scam ahead of the police; and Carl and Sandy, a husband and wife who pick up male hitchhikers and photograph them before dispatching them to a (no doubt) better world.
As Arvin grows up—The Devil All the Time’s narrative arcs from the end of World War II to the late 1960s—life’s twists and turns provide him with a measure of salvation from his own past, and from the people whose soul-damaged lives Pollock has set down so indelibly on the blood-red altar of his incendiary imagination."—Lisa Shea, ELLE magazine
"The Devil All the Time reads as if the love child of O'Connor and Faulkner was captured by Cormac McCarthy, kept in a cage out back and forced to consume nothing but onion rings, Oxycontin and Terrence Malick's Badlands.”—Jeff Baker, The Oregonian
“For fans of No Country for Old Men and Natural Born Killers… [a] grisly Southern Gothic novel that's sure to give you goose bumps no matter how hot the weather gets.”—The Daily Details, DETAILS.com
“Donald Ray Pollock’s engaging and proudly violent first novel…suggests a new category of fiction—grindhouse literary. Subtle characterization: check. Well-crafted sentences: check. Enthusiastic amounts of murder and mayhem: check, check.”—Taylor Antrim, the Daily Beast
"So humid is The Devil All The Time with moral grime that the characters seem always to be grasping for a breath of divine intervention—some through prayer, others through murder and creepy sex."—GQ
“Devil features a bleak and often nightmarish vision of the decades following World War II, a world where redemption, on the rare occasions when it does come to town, rides shotgun with soul-scarring consequences.”—Jason Albert, The Onion/A.V. Club
“Donald Ray Pollock has a flair for creating flawed characters you don't admire but can't help wanting to know more about…. His stories have the same quirky, Appalachian temperament found in the works of Ron Rash or Chuck Kinder, but Pollock defies comparisons.”—Rege Behe, Pittsburgh Tribune Review
“The Devil All the Time is an expansive, decades-spanning slice of Americana … a systematic cataloguing of the horror and hypocrisy that festers in the dark shadow of the American dream.”—Allison Hallett, The Portland Mercury
"[The Devil All the Time is] a world unto its own, a world vividly and powerfully brought to life by a literary stylist who packs a punch as deadly as pulp-fiction master Jim Thompson and as evocative and morally rigorous as Russell Banks."—Tirdad Derakhshani, Philadelphia Inquirer
"Pollock has expanded on [his] storytelling gift for his debut novel, The Devil All the Time. A gallery of reprobates and religious fanatics flutter through these pages. These are multidimensional, flawed human beings. Some pray for better days. Others imagine a resurrection.... Inexorable fate draws these story strands into ever-tightening loops as Pollock’s characters circulate in Ohio, West Virginia and along desolate highways to the south and west....The Devil All the Time is a mesmerizing first novel. It could be cinematized into one heckuva motion picture."—Vick MicKunas, Dayton Daily News
"The world of The Devil All the Time may be geographically just a few dozen miles south of Columbus, but psychologically, it's deep in the heart of hell....The appalling acts these characters commit, and are subjected to, might be unbearable in other hands, but Pollock keeps a certain distance, not wallowing in the details and leaving most of the worst to the imagination. He doesn't extend forgiveness to the characters, but he makes even the most evil of them understandable. He also has the driest and darkest sense of humor. It both cuts through and sharpens much of the horror...Beneath the gothic horror is an Old Testament sense of a moral order in the universe, even if the restoration of that order itself requires violence. As Pollock pulls the strands of his plot together, they reveal patterns both surprising and inevitable."—Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch
“This novel fulfills the promise made by Pollock’s debut collection, Knockemstiff. He is a real writer, and The Devil All The Time hits you like a telegram from Hell slid under your door at three o’clock in the morning.”—William Gay, author of Provinces of Night and The Long Home
Praise for Knockemstiff
“Pollock brings grace and precision to colloquial language, and the ferocious integrity of his vision is flat-out stunning . . . I keep reaching for some other writer to compare him with—maybe a Raymond Carver with hope and vitality, or a godless Flannery O’Conner—but Pollock is no shadow of anybody else. This is a powerful talent at work.”
—Katherine Dunn, author of Geek Love
“This is as raw as American fiction gets. It is an unforgettable experience.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Pollock’s voice is fresh and full-throated . . . His steely, serrated prose . . . calls to mind Harry Crews.”
— New York Times Book Review
“The next important voice in American fiction.”
—Wall Street Journal
“More engaging than any new fiction in years.”
“Knockemstiff is an astonishing debut, reminiscent of when Larry Brown burst on the scene with Facing the Music. Pollock’s refusal to sentimentalize his characters and their world gives his book a fierce integrity. He’s the real thing, a new and important voice in American fiction, and a welcome relief from the timidity and preening self-absorption of so much contemporary fiction.”
—Ron Rash, author of Serena
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).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.
It was a Wednesday afternoon in the fall of 1945, not long after the war had ended. The Greyhound made its regular stop in Meade, Ohio, a little paper-mill town an hour south of Columbus that smelled like rotten eggs. Strangers complained about the stench, but the locals liked to brag that it was the sweet smell of money. The bus driver, a soft, sawed-off man who wore elevated shoes and a limp bow tie, pulled in the alley beside the depot and announced a forty-minute break. He wished he could have a cup of coffee, but his ulcer was acting up again. He yawned and took a swig from a bottle of pink medicine he kept on the dashboard. The smokestack across town, by far the tallest structure in this part of the state, belched forth another dirty brown cloud. You could see it for miles, puffing like a volcano about to blow its skinny top.
Leaning back in his seat, the bus driver pulled his leather cap down over his eyes. He lived right outside of Philadelphia, and he thought that if he ever had to live in a place like Meade, Ohio, he'd go ahead and shoot himself. You couldn't even find a bowl of lettuce in this town. All that people seemed to eat here was grease and more grease. He'd be dead in two months eating the slop they did. His wife told her friends that he was delicate, but there was something about the tone of her voice that sometimes made him wonder if she was really being sympathetic. If it hadn't been for the ulcer, he would have gone off to fight with the rest of the men. He'd have slaughtered a whole platoon of Germans and shown her just how goddamn delicate he was. The biggest regret was all the medals he'd missed out on. His old man once got a certificate from the railroad for not missing a single day of work in twenty years, and had pointed it out to his sickly son every time he'd seen him for the next twenty. When the old man finally croaked, the bus driver tried to talk his mother into sticking the certificate in the casket with the body so he wouldn't have to look at it anymore. But she insisted on leaving it displayed in the living room as an example of what a person could attain in this life if he didn't let a little indigestion get in his way. The funeral, an event the bus driver had looked forward to for a long time, had nearly been ruined by all the arguing over that crummy scrap of paper. He would be glad when all the discharged soldiers finally reached their destinations so he wouldn't have to look at the dumb bastards anymore. It wore on you after a while, other people's accomplishments.
Private Willard Russell had been drinking in the back of the bus with two sailors from Georgia, but one had passed out and the other had puked in their last jug. He kept thinking that if he ever got home, he'd never leave Coal Creek, West Virginia, again. He'd seen some hard things growing up in the hills, but they didn't hold a candle to what he'd witnessed in the South Pacific. On one of the Solomons, he and a couple of other men from his outfit had run across a marine skinned alive by the Japanese and nailed to a cross made out of two palm trees. The raw, bloody body was covered with black flies. They could still see the man's heart beating in his chest. His dog tags were hanging from what remained of one of his big toes: Gunnery Sergeant Miller Jones. Unable to offer anything but a little mercy, Willard shot the marine behind the ear, and they took him down and covered him with rocks at the foot of the cross. The inside of Willard's head hadn't been the same since.
When he heard the tubby bus driver yell something about a break, Willard stood up and started toward the door, disgusted with the two sailors. In his opinion, the navy was one branch of the military that should never be allowed to drink. In the three years he'd served in the army, he hadn't met a single swabby who could hold his liquor. Someone had told him that it was because of the saltpeter they were fed to keep them from going crazy and fucking each other when they were out to sea. He wandered outside the bus depot and saw a little restaurant across the street called the Wooden Spoon. There was a piece of white cardboard stuck in the window advertising a meat loaf special for thirty-five cents. His mother had fixed him a meat loaf the day before he left for the army, and he considered that a good sign. In a booth by the window, he sat down and lit a cigarette. A shelf ran around the room, lined with old bottles and antique kitchenware and cracked black-and-white photographs for the dust to collect on. Tacked to the wall by the booth was a faded newspaper account of a Meade police officer who'd been gunned down by a bank robber in front of the bus depot. Willard looked closer, saw that it was dated February 11, 1936. That would have been four days before his twelfth birthday, he calculated. An old man, the only other customer in the diner, was bent over at a table in the middle of the room slurping a bowl of green soup. His false teeth rested on top of a stick of butter in front of him.
Willard finished the cigarette and was just getting ready to leave when a dark-haired waitress finally stepped out of the kitchen. She grabbed a menu from a stack by the cash register and handed it to him. "I'm sorry," she said, "I didn't hear you come in." Looking at her high cheekbones and full lips and long, slender legs, Willard discovered, when she asked him what he wanted to eat, that the spit had dried in his mouth. He could barely speak. That had never happened to him before, not even in the middle of the worst fighting on Bougainville. While she went to put the order in and get him a cup of coffee, the thought went through his head that just a couple of months ago he was certain that his life was going to end on some steamy, worthless rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; and now here he was, still sucking air and just a few hours from home, being waited on by a woman who looked like a live version of one of those pinup movie angels. As best as Willard could ever tell, that was when he fell in love. It didn't matter that the meat loaf was dry and the green beans were mushy and the roll as hard as a lump of #5 coal. As far as he was concerned, she served him the best meal he ever had in his life. And after he finished it, he got back on the bus without even knowing Charlotte Willoughby's name.
Across the river in Huntington, he found a liquor store when the bus made another stop, and bought five pints of bonded whiskey that he stuck away in his pack. He sat in the front now, right behind the driver, thinking about the girl in the diner and looking for some indication that he was getting close to home. He was still a little drunk. Out of the blue, the bus driver said, "Bringing any medals back?" He glanced at Willard in the rearview mirror.
Willard shook his head. "Just this skinny old carcass I'm walking around in."
"I wanted to go, but they wouldn't take me."
"You're lucky," Willard said. The day they'd come across the marine, the fighting on the island was nearly over, and the sergeant had sent them out looking for some water fit to drink. A couple of hours after they buried Miller Jones's flayed body, four starving Japanese soldiers with fresh bloodstains on their machetes came out of the rocks with their hands up in the air and surrendered. When Willard and his two buddies started to lead them back to the location of the cross, the soldiers dropped to their knees and started begging or apologizing, he didn't know which. "They tried to escape," Willard lied to the sergeant later in the camp. "We didn't have no choice." After they had executed the Japs, one of the men with him, a Louisiana boy who wore a swamp rat's foot around his neck to ward off slant-eyed bullets, cut their ears off with a straight razor. He had a cigar box full of ones he'd already dried. His plan was to sell the trophies for five bucks apiece once they got back to civilization.
"I got an ulcer," the bus driver said.
"You didn't miss nothing."
"I don't know," the bus driver said. "I sure would have liked to got me a medal. Maybe a couple of them. I figure I could have killed enough of those Kraut bastards for two anyway. I'm pretty quick with my hands."
Looking at the back of the bus driver's head, Willard thought about the conversation he'd had with the gloomy young priest on board the ship after he confessed that he'd shot the marine to put him out of his misery. The priest was sick of all the death he'd seen, all the prayers he'd said over rows of dead soldiers and piles of body parts. He told Willard that if even half of history was true, then the only thing this depraved and corrupt world was good for was preparing you for the next. "Did you know," Willard said to the driver, "that the Romans used to gut donkeys and sew Christians up alive inside the carcasses and leave them out in the sun to rot?" The priest had been full of such stories.
"What the hell's that got to do with a medal?"
"Just think about it. You're trussed up like a turkey in a pan with just your head sticking out a dead donkey's ass; and then the maggots eating away at you until you see the glory."
The bus driver frowned, gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. "Friend, I don't see what you're getting at. I was talking about coming home with a big medal pinned to your chest. Did these Roman fellers give out medals to them people before they stuck 'em in the donkeys? Is that what you mean?"
Willard didn't know what he meant. According to the priest, only God could figure out the ways of men. He licked his dry lips, thought about the whiskey in his pack. "What I'm saying is that when it comes right down to it, everybody suffers in the end," Willard said.
"Well," the bus driver said, "I'd liked to have my medal before then. Heck, I got a wife at home who goes nuts every time she sees one. Talk about suffering. I worry myself sick anytime I'm out on the road she's gonna take off with a purple heart."
Willard leaned forward and the driver felt the soldier's hot breath on the back of his fat neck, smelled the whiskey fumes and the stale traces of a cheap lunch. "You think Miller Jones would give a shit if his old lady was out fucking around on him?" Willard said. "Buddy, he'd trade places with you any goddamn day."
"Who the hell is Miller Jones?"
Willard looked out the window as the hazy top of Greenbrier Mountain started to appear in the distance. His hands were trembling, his brow shiny with sweat. "Just some poor bastard who went and fought in that war they cheated you out of, that's all."
Willard was just getting ready to break down and crack open one of the pints when his uncle Earskell pulled up in his rattly Ford in front of the Greyhound station in Lewisburg at the corner of Washington and Court. He had been sitting on a bench outside for almost three hours, nursing a cold coffee in a paper cup and watching people walk by the Pioneer Drugstore. He was ashamed of the way he'd talked to the bus driver, sorry that he'd brought up the marine's name like he did; and he vowed that, though he would never forget him, he'd never mention Gunnery Sergeant Miller Jones to anyone again. Once they were on the road, he reached into his duffel and handed Earskell one of the pints along with a German Luger. He'd traded a Japanese ceremonial sword for the pistol at the base in Maryland right before he got discharged. "That's supposed to be the gun Hitler used to blow his brains out," Willard said, trying to hold back a grin.
"Bullshit," Earskell said.
Willard laughed. "What? You think the guy lied to me?"
"Ha!" the old man said. He twisted the cap off the bottle, took a long pull, then shuddered. "Lord, this is good stuff."
"Drink up. I got three more in my kit." Willard opened another pint and lit a cigarette. He stuck his arm out the window. "How's my mother doing?"
"Well, I gotta say, when they sent Junior Carver's body back, she went a little off in the head there for a while. But she seems pretty good now." Earskell took another hit off the pint and set it between his legs. "She just been worried about you, that's all."
They climbed slowly into the hills toward Coal Creek. Earskell wanted to hear some war stories, but the only thing his nephew talked about for the next hour was some woman he'd met in Ohio. It was the most he'd ever heard Willard talk in his life. He wanted to ask if it was true that the Japs ate their own dead, like the newspaper said, but he figured that could wait. Besides, he needed to pay attention to his driving. The whiskey was going down awful smooth, and his eyes weren't as good as they used to be. Emma had been waiting on her son to return home for a long time, and it would be a shame if he wrecked and killed them both before she got to see him. Earskell chuckled a little to himself at the thought of that. His sister was one of the most God-fearing people he'd ever met, but she'd follow him straight into hell to make him pay for that one.
Posted September 11, 2011
By the end of the second chapter I felt as though I were reading a contemporary version of Steinbeck. Pollock's writing is somehow similar to moist beauty sucked to a ragged
dry poetic carcass. The surrealistic nature of the story helps to counter the terrifying violence and savage outcome of the magnetic characters. At later points in the book the action borders on absurdist, almost to a fault, but Pollack reels the empathy back to the hopeless dilemma of his protagonist. By the end I felt as though there was light where their most obviously shouldn't be. I highly recommend!
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Posted August 9, 2011
This was the first book I've read of Donald Pollock and it was crazy. I don't usually take the time to write reviews, but this book has me spinning. The story lines were woven into this spiderweb that just got more and more intense with each chapter. I could not stop reading it and when I got done I just wanted to talk to someone else about it. It was dark, violent and an incredible ride. Fantastic read, will be thinking about this one for a LONG time to come.
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Posted February 21, 2013
In Donald Ray Pollock’s braided novel The Devil All the Time, the reader is transported back in time to a dark Midwest setting, from pre World War II to the 1960’s. Brutal and raw, Pollock creates conflicted characters toward which we feel both empathy and disgust toward. From the time that we meet small Arvin, who watches his father, Willard, sacrifice living creatures over his “prayer log” while his mother loses her battle with cancer, to the image of grown Arvin looking at the moss covered log and rotting crosses one last time, we laugh and cringe as we are dragged through the assortment of corroded and perverted character’s stories. With short chapters and sharp dialogue, this is a quick, easy read, however complicated with the intertwining stories that eventually and unexpectedly are all brought together.
Pollock’s neatly woven novel uses threads that one would think unlikely to collide. A 10 year old orphan, a married couple roaming the Midwest as serial killers, fulfilling their sexual thrills, and a scamming preacher with his pedophile, guitar playing sidekick are the main focus of the book. We watch orphaned Arvin grow up in a world where serial killers, Sandy and Carl, pick up hitchhikers, luring them into filmed seduction followed by filmed murder, Preacher, Roy, and his sidekick, Theodore, are running from the law for their scandalous activity amongst churches, and the legal system in his backwoods hometown being damaged and corrupt. Just how will Arvin turn out in this world? Which characters would survive this gritty tale?
Within the first 50 pages, Arvin witnesses 2 animals and a human being sacrificed by his father, hanging from crosses, and dripping with blood and maggots in order to save his mother from the cancer that is killing her. When his attempts don’t work and the woman dies, Willard, Arvin’s father, takes his own life, leaving him orphaned and to be raised by his grandmother and uncle. We see both an evil and good side of Arvin and, at the end of the novel, are left pulling for him to turn more toward good. He is the binding element throughout the book and with all the evil, we hope for some light.
We meet morally bankrupt Carl and Sandy next. They save up for thrilling vacations during which they troll the nation’s highways, preying on people in need of a little help. They pick up male hitchhikers and while Sandy seduces them, Carl photographs. When they’ve gotten their thrills from their latest prey, they kill them in cold blood, taking yet more pictures. Although this couple has nothing, but evil intentions, their characters are built so well, that with their poverty and hard working nature, we can almost sympathize with them.
The story of Roy and Theodore starts out casting them in the light of the Lord. Roy covers himself in spiders in front of a church while his invalid sidekick plays guitar in his wheelchair in order to prove their trust in God. As the reader watches their story unfold, we see that they are nothing but poor, lawless, scamming drunks. As they run from the law after a haunting murder, they end up in a world of trouble down the east coast. Homeless and down on their luck, the reader can also sympathize with the two anarchic men in their journey toward fulfillment.
With these three main stories occurring throughout the novel, and many other side stories, they seem far from relatable to one another. In fact, they don’t all completely tie together until the last line we will read. With a shocking end, everything is tied neatly together and Pollock leaves the reader wanting more.
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Posted May 16, 2012
Posted October 21, 2011
I couldn't put this one down but be aware that the subject is very stark and gritty. The people in this novel aren't like anyone you know (I certainly hope not....). You may be shocked at some of the practices the author writes about but again, these people are probably not your neighbors. Excellent story and vivid insight into a level of humanity most of us will never know.
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Posted September 26, 2011
Great read. A little slow at first and jumps around a bit to where you sometimes get confused but after page 125 the momentum gets going and its hard to stop. Good thriller with crazy twists!
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Posted September 22, 2011
Posted September 9, 2011
Some interesting characters and rather well written but I found I didn't really care much about what happened to them. It's hard to work up empathy for people who are so much their own worst enemies, even though that's a pretty accurate portrayal of humanity in general.
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Posted August 26, 2011
I enjoyed every detail, every character, every word. Though it may be a gruesome story line, it has become one of my favorite novels. A good read that will keep you guessing, and turning each page.
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Posted August 6, 2011
Posted May 24, 2014
Posted January 7, 2013
Posted September 22, 2012
A mess of pure intrigue, suspense and sadness. The Devil All The Time, divulges into a world that we would rather not imagine, however, are allowed to experience with a well written maze of disturbed lives. The images that Pollock creates are embedded into your mind and are necessary to understand the world Arvin was born into. Pollock manages to draw a clash of emotions from readers towards the characters and surprisingly, a sense of wicked closure for Arvin. Pollock's interview on NPR introduced me to his work and quite honestly, I am now a Pollock reader for life.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 21, 2012
Posted September 17, 2012
Solid. If it weren't so obsurdly barbaric and sardonic, it'd be a classic. Instead, it'll get put in the suggest-to-who-you-know-can-take-it category.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 22, 2012
I grew up in the 50's and 60's. Visited old timers in smokey cabins just off dirt roads. This book captures the character of the people and the poverty of these places. I have not been so engrossed with characters, even the unsavory ones, since reading John Steinbeck's novels as a youngster. Great work on tough subjects.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 6, 2012
Posted November 1, 2011
I absolutely loved The Devil All the Time. The characters are the darkest, most sickening creatures I have ever read about and yet, I was completely mesmerized by them. Pollock's writing is so disturbing that I often found myself wondering how I could ever suggest this book to a person without forever changing their opinion of me. There's Willard who sacrifices animals and even a human to save his dying wife, while also subjecting his son, Arvin, to these disturbing rituals. Then we have Carl and Sandy who photograph and kill models. Finally, there's the preacher, Roy, and his wheelchair-bound cousin Theodore who are equally disgusting characters in this novel. Despite the appalling crimes committed by these people, I was fascinated by their lives and couldn't put this book down.
My only criticism is that each story could have stood on its own. The Devil All the Time is less like a novel and more like a compilation of short stories. I understood the grand scheme connection, but it seemed a little forced - as if the author just needed a reason to slap the stories together in the same binding. Honestly though, I was not bothered by this; it was just more substance for me to cringe at.
Reviewed by Brittany for Book Sake.
Posted October 31, 2011
This is a quick read, full of intrigue. I read this for a book club and several members were put off by the violence. So be prepared for violence in the forms of sexual perversity and heinous acts. However, it is well written and a page turner. The characters are well formed and believable.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
(Originally published in full at The Nervous Breakdown.)
If you've heard of Donald Ray Pollock, it was probably due to his collection of interlinked short stories, Knockemstiff published back in 2009, set in the titular town. His debut novel, The Devil All the Time (Doubleday) treads similar ground, spending most of its time in rural southern Ohio and West Virginia in the late 1950s and early 1960s, tracking and recording a wide range of psychopathic behaviors by a motley crew of misfits and delinquents.
What Pollock does so well is create a place and time where nothing he says or shows us is beyond belief. From the beginning we see how things are in Knockemstiff, and we understand the desperation, the need for prayer, the aching hope that something will change and improve.
"Four hundred or so people lived in Knockemstiff in 1957, nearly all of them connected by blood through one God-forsaken calamity or another, be it lust or necessity or just plain ignorance. Along with the tar-papered shacks and cinder block houses, the holler included two general stores and a Church of Christ in Christian Union and a joint known throughout the township as the Bull Pen."
We follow a large cast of screwed up people, starting with Arvin Eugene Russell, who witnesses the death of his mother from disease, and the suicide of his father, damaged and distraught by the loss of his wife. Arvin is forced to worship and beg at a praying log, the forest drenched with blood, rotting carcasses and handmade crosses littering the ground, the stench and desperate act nothing short of abuse. When local lawman, Lee Boedecker shows up, he is shocked to find such ruins:
"Bodecker lifted his flashlight. Animals in various states of decay hung all around them, some in the branches and others from tall wooden crosses. A dead dog with a leather collar around its neck was nailed up high to one of the crosses like some kind of hideous sacrifice. The head of a deer lay at the foot of another."
Arvin eventually sets out on the road and leaves behind his tortured past, but the road is not easy or kind. Out on the highways and back roads are people like his neighbors, Carl and Sandy Henderson. Carl likes to take pictures of his naked wife fondling strange men, before and after he puts a bullet in the stunned hitchhikers, leaving bodies all over the southern states. Sandy bartends and whores, quick to jump in the sack with whatever man gives her an iota of grace and kindness, never phased by the violence she witnesses up close.
We also follow a preacher, Roy, and his crippled, deviant guitarist Theodore, as they travel from a bewildered church to a circus filled with horny bird-women and drunken clowns to a desperate life as field hands and hobos. Carl and Sandy have cast a wide net, and eventually they pull in the tired, beaten down Roy, and ask him to be one of their models.
We come to expect the worst, so when it arrives we are not shocked, but instead hypnotized, wondering when the dark souls who dance about the page will finally get their comeuppance. We wait for justice to descend, for all of the cruel, violent acts to be punished, for the righteous to be redeemed in the end.
(Continued at The Nervous Breakdown.)