BOOK REVIEW: The Devil All The Time

The Devil All The Time

Donald Ray Pollock

(Vintage Books)

 

Everyone knows the best stories happen in the middle of nowhere. And Donald Ray Pollock has weaved together four from the American hinterland, which shine a flesh-scorching magnifying glass on the lives of the murderous and dysfunctional, each building with the intensity of those freshly buried alive, scrambling for air.

 

Born and raised in Knockemstiff, Ohio, Pollock’s first novel expands his pallet of f*ck ups from his short stories. Stretching from 1945 to the mid-sixties, each is tied under the expanse of grey skies, tattered Americana and creeping dread of the mid-West. We meet Willard, a Pacific war veteran and product of the bible-belt, driven into the woods with his precious prayer log and blood-splattered animal sacrifices as he prays for his dying wife to beat the cancer. Then a decade later, we’re driving in a battered car with Carl and Sandy Henderson, picking up hitchhikers and turning off into a lane, with a camera and shot gun. Elsewhere, a crippled guitar player and young preacher spend their days evangelizing and hustling with a bucket of spiders and trying to run away from their own dark trail of destruction. And as with all small towns, it all slowly tightens its grip like a cobra around Willard’s son, Arvin, with his own scores to settle.

 

This is raw-knuckled, grizzled writing, straight from the heart and the twisted gut of a writer who pins you against the wall with his story telling. Pollock’s characters might not be the sort of people you would ever want to meet but they are most certainly alive. And it has the same way with dialogue and clever, heart-stopping scenes as the late, great Elmore Leonard. It almost seems impossible for this not to end up as an HBO series or Coen Brother film. But be warned, it will make its closest comparison, True Detective seem like the Waltons.

 

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