Monday, 7 March 2016

The Devil All The Time by Donald Ray Pollock

The Devil All The Time
Donald Ray Pollock
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Source: Purchased (Waterstones)

*Content: Scenes of violence, mental and physical abuse, & truck loads of swearing*


So glad that I've read a run of really good books lately. I get a little disheartened when I try not to but have to abandon more than two books in a row. The latest few have been seriously good in my opinion and I will endeavour not to gush overly, which will, believe me, be hard not to do.

First up is, Donald Ray Pollock's debut novel, 'The Devil All The Time':

..."Unless he had whiskey running through his veins, Willard came to the clearing every morning and evening to talk to God. Arvin didn't know which was worse, the drinking or the praying. As far back as he could remember, it seemed that his father had fought the Devil all the time.”...

The Devil All The Time is unbelievably, the debut novel from Donald Ray Pollock. I couldn't fault it in any area. This gritty, perverse tale of interlinked short stories flows seamlessly from one narrative into another, then back again.  Written in the 3rd person narrative it is a deliriously twisted intensely gratuitously violent tale with deeply religious and Gothic under­tones.

It is an insightful character driven story about several complex tragic, manipulative and predatory personalities who live in and around rural southern Ohio and West Virginia during the late 1950's and 1960's.

One of the narrative perspectives is of Willard Russell, a traumatised WWII veteran returning from the bloody battle front at the end of the war.  On his journey home he sees a beautiful waitress at The Wooden Spoon Restaurant. He is instantly smitten, pursues and ultimately asks her to marry him.  It is during Charlotte's agonising terminal illness that he becomes increasingly unbalanced and resorts to disturbing prayer rituals and sacrifices in order to bring her back to her former health.

Caught in the middle of all this is Arvin, Willard and Charlotte's son who is forced to participate in the rituals. Despite an increasing intensity of praying and sacrificial offerings Charlotte dies and after further tragic events the traumatized Arvin is sent to live with his grandmother.

The imagery is strong and highly emotive with descriptions of Willard's traumatic experiences during the war witnessing at one juncture a crucified soldier, and later of the sacrificing of a dog. Pollock teases us with plots and sub plots. Gives faint glimmers of people about to do right and then dashes your hopes when they do not follow through with their good intentions.

Nothing good ever seems to happen to anyone and I was constantly waiting to find out about the next piece of bad luck or misfortune to befall the next victim.  Its like road crash tv, you want to, OK...feel as if you should, turn away but are just too compelled to witness what these sad, miserable and often violent individuals will do next.

Amongst the multitude of compelling characters are:

Carl and Sandy Henderson, husband and wife who like to pick-up hitchhikers during their road trip vacations. Torture and then kill their prey whilst taking photographs for keepsakes;
The town's corrupt sheriff Lee Bodecker;
& travelling theatrical preachers Roy, and his crippled sidekick guitarist Theodore;

I don't want to detail too many of the townsfolk as I don't want to spoil the thrill of finding out about them as their woeful tales unravel.  However all the narratives are entwined and story lines converge in the novel's grand finale, which at long last may give a tiny glimmer of hope, for one individual at least.

The Devil All The Time is an uncomfortable tale about the darkness of human nature and the lengths people are prepared, willingly or reluctantly to go to when there is poverty, lack of education, loss of faith and little hope of ever escaping from such a miserable existence.

The Devil All The Time will not sit comfortably with everyone especially if you do not like violence, or a serious amount of swearing but if you enjoy extremely well written, clever plot lines about skank hillbilly townsfolk, serial killers, and a plethora of other perverted undesirables, I highly recommend it for those who can stomach it.

Favourite quote: "Some people were born just so they could be buried",
Lee Bodecker, Sheriff

Character most liked: A difficult one. I guess Arvin as he had an unimaginably miserable childhood and I desperately wanted his life to turn out better for him.

Character most disliked: Too many to choose from but I'll say it has to be Carl Henderson a psychotic, manipulative personality. Such an unsavoury slob of a character. Pollock's superb depiction of grotesque behaviour and mannerism of this character evoked such vivid imagery and that the smell of his bad breath and foul unwashed body odour almost had me gagging as it seeped from the pages.

'Knockemstiff' Pollock's collection of short stories published before The Devil All The Time is, in my opinion even more stomach churning. At least some redeeming features can be gleaned from the resident folk in The Devil All The Time.

Looking forward to reading Pollock's second novel,  'The Heavenly Table' published by Harvill Secker (14th July 2016).

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