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The Devil All the Timeby Donald Ray Pollock
In The Devil All the Time, Pollock mixes equal parts Tod Browning (Freaks) and Davis Grubb (The Night of the Hunter) to concoct an entirely original work that is as heartfelt as it is visceral. Simply put, it's an astonishing debut novel.
Donald Ray Pollock toiled in an Ohio paper mill for over 30 years before selling his first book, Knockemstiff. Though most of Pollock's work takes place in Ohio, there's more than a touch of the Southern literary tradition in his writing. His characters, unconventionally religious and by degrees both desperate and resigned, are drawn into a great circular story. They grapple and confront each other in ways that are often violent and sometimes bizarre. Players include a failed faith healer, a desperate husband and a son caught in his wake, and a serial killing couple who document their dirty work on camera. His work has legs. The message: Life isn't fair, but it's rarely uninteresting.
The Devil All the Time is a dark, gritty, heartbreaking story set in the South after WWII. Arvin Russell watches helplessly as his mother dies and his father goes slowly insane trying in vain to save her. Carl and Sandy Henderson are a married pair of serial killers combing the countryside for hitchhikers who later beg for mercy but receive none. Sheriff Lee Bodecker is the designated lawman, but he makes his own rules, which never match the law he's promised to uphold. A pair of pseudo-preachers, Roy and Theodore, are running from a crime they are almost too confused to understand. The new preacher, Preston Teagardin, has an uncontrollable appetite for young girls and no qualms about satisfying that urge, despite the fact that his bride is 16. Pollock's characters seem absolutely real and convincingly tell their stories as the book builds to a dramatic and explosive ending. Violent, harrowing, deeply disturbing, and horrific, Pollock's story is difficult to read but amazingly well written and exceedingly worth the effort — it is truly fantastic.
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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 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, 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 review)
"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....The flawless cadence of Pollock's gorgeous shadow-and-light prose plays against the heinous acts of his sorrowful and sometimes just sorry characters." 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." Pittsburgh Tribune Review
"The Devil All the Time is an expansive, decades-spanning slice of Americana...a systematic cataloging 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." 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....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
In the backwoods of Ohio, Willard Russell's wife is succumbing to cancer, no matter how much he drinks, prays, or sacrifices animals at his "prayer log." Meanwhile, his son Arvin is growing up, from a kid bullied at school into a man who knows when to take action. Around them swirl a nefarious cast of characters — a demented team of serial killers, a spider-eating preacher, and a corrupt local sheriff — all braided into a riveting narrative of the grittiest American grain.
About the Author
Donald Ray Pollock, recipient of the 2009 PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship, made his literary debut in 2008 with the critically acclaimed short story collection Knockemstiff. He worked as a laborer at the Mead Paper Mill in Chillicothe, Ohio, from 1973 to 2005.
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