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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.
"If Pollack'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, possibly 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.' Pollack 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. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"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." Chuck Palahniuk
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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