The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
|The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A very good debut novel, with a charmingly dark look at rural American life and death.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: November 2011|
|Publisher: Harvill Secker|
|External links: Author's website|
Welcome to Knockemstiff. There's already been a book of that name, but as this is the author's first novel that must have been short stories. Anyway, it's a place you certainly don't want to live, but on the quality of these contents, it's well worth visiting. It's a place where men meet their partners working as a waitress in an all-night diner, whether they've just come back from fighting in Korea or are a serial killer. It's a place where a man forces his son to pray dawn and dusk in a forested glade, while he sacrifices animals and hopes that works to rid his wife, and his kid's mother, of her cancer. It's a place where the visiting priest pours a jar of spiders over himself to prove the power of the Lord's ability to rid him of phobias - and later, where a more humble, sensible priest only gets frowned on and shunned.
This is the 1950s and 1960s in very rural mid-East USA, a place not come across much in fiction on these shores. And these are certainly people not too common in modern novels either. You can't judge who might be proven a killer by the end, and who might survive. People do horrid things, act horrendously, and blame it on nature, God and righteousness, and anything else at hand, if they even think that hard about it. The actual plot it best left for you to discover, as it contains much to entertain, and a great way of bringing all the strands together by the end.
I did at times trip up over Pollock's multiple story strands working in simultaneous timelines, but not at the same pace, if you get what I mean. That may well be deliberate, as much of what is here is very well crafted. It's a fine depiction of a mood of a place and a way of life, and he controls his flashbacks, interior thoughts and everything else very well. The publishers cite Natural Born Killers (for the most prominent killing couple) and No Country For Old Men (for brutal death and religion combined), but it also brought to mind Winter's Bone, for being an eye-opening evocation of a place in rural USA their tourist board would much rather didn't exist.
In fact while it paints a very dark picture, and while it has a brilliantly blase attitude to religion and killing as its prime quality, it isn't particularly gruesome and horrific. A lot is left to the imagination, and we can read this without strengthening the stomach with a fifth of whiskey beforehand. It's a noteworthy debut novel, and this author's Ohio and Virginia are, to repeat, places worth going to - in his fiction and nohow else.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock at Amazon.com.
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