BOOK | FICTION | LITERARY
THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME
DONALD RAY POLLOCK
RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★★
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. From the Book Description
First let me point out that the title of this book is THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME. It’s not The Devil Some of the Time or The Devil Every Once in a While. I repeat, it’s The Devil All the Time. This is an important point, one that all the up-in-arms one-star reviewers of the book complaining about it having no redeeming characters seem to have somehow missed.
Little details like book titles do matter folks.
So yeah, with a title like that you shouldn’t be surprised when finding that it’s a gritty, grimy, nasty, corrupt, vulgar tale of a story that thoroughly explores the deep dark levels of depravity to which our inhumane human-ness is capable of descending.
It’s also beautifully written with a complex twisting of storylines that straighten themselves out nicely as one in the end, if not a bit too conveniently so as some of the negative reviewers point out and which I somewhat agree with them there.
But only somewhat.
The part of the publisher’s book description that I didn’t include above states essentially that The Devil All the Time is a mashup of “the twisted intensity of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers with the religious and Gothic overtones of Flannery O’Connor at her most haunting.”
There were several reviewers who seem to consider it sacrilegious to compare this work to O’Connor’s, the literary icon that she is. I kind of have to agree with them. Certainly not so vehemently, nor even for the same reasons, but because I got more of a William Faulkner vibe from it than an O’Connor.
But that’s just literary semantics. The book is an exceptional read in its own right.
What made it an especially exceptional read for me is that the audiobook version is narrated by master voice actor Mark Bramhall. I was fortunate to discover Bramhall’s genius when reading Christopher Buehlman’s wonderful horror tale THOSE ACROSS THE RIVER, and it was in search of more of his genius that I came across this book of which I am now reviewing for your entertainment and instruction.
Okay, all that’s fine and dandy; but want to know what impresses me most about The Devil All the Time?
Too bad. Ima tell you anyway.
What impresses me most about the work is the author himself, Mr. Donald Ray Pollock.
Not only is Pollock originally from the area of which his depressed story is set, he depressingly dropped out of school at seventeen and, after a (depressing?) stint at a meat packing plant, spent the next thirty-two (depressing?) years working as a laborer in a paper mill.
Don’t know if it all was as depressing as it seems, but it sure seems as if Pollock is trying to play it up that way in his bio.
Regardless, he, at some point, decided he wanted to be a writer so, at the age of forty-nine, he went ahead and enrolled in the MFA program at Ohio State University.
How cool is that?
How brave is that?!
I can’t imagine the courage it must have taken for him to follow his literary dreams at such an advanced age, especially knowing that to do so he would have to expose himself so openly before classroom’s full of young and exceedingly idealistic whippersnappers, most of whom probably never once had to worry about their parents not covering their expenses, let alone worry about the real life challenges this often dark and dangerous world will offer them once they’re out of the controlled college environment and having to provide for themselves.
This old dude Pollock is now this old dude Brindley’s newest hero.
And, btw, not only does Pollack have more guts than I’ll ever have, his first novel, as dark and disturbing and sans morality as it may be…
Is frikkin’ amazing.
Featured image courtesy of the author’s official website