The Devil All the Time
This new novel is proof that there is, and isn’t, a God. Written by a middle-aged Ohio man who spent 32 years working in paper mills and slaughterhouses before sitting down and trying to earn a living as a published writer, “The Devil All the Time,” by Donald Ray Pollock, is also a literary achievement, NOT just a literary freak show du jour. Compared, rightly, to Raymond Carver and Flannery O’Connor (what a pair they woulda made), Pollock took his time, something the chick-lit faction wouldn’t have a clue to do (and it shows).
Why no God? Because the guy’s God-given talents weren’t given a chance through half his life. And you have to assume that some of the atrocities that befall characters in the book hit very close to his own home.
The cast includes a Huck Finn-like orphan boy, a pedophile and a serial killer couple (who call their victims their “models”). That’s the Flannery aspect. The Carver comes in the sparse, smart, tight dialogue and story telling. It’s a chiller, both for its Midwest Gothic violence of nonsensical proportions, and for the fact that this blue-collar dude has more writer’s gifts than the staff of The New Yorker.
Interviewed on NPR, the charmingly humble Pollock twanged along that he started his penmanship, so to speak, by typing out some of his favorite novels from beginning to end. It helped, but didn’t provide him the life-experience stories already etched in his brain and forearms.
Set in between WW2 and the ’60s, the book takes place mostly in Pollock’s hometown of….Knockemstiff…the name of an actual town. Can’t make this stuff up. He describes Knockemstiff as one tough place, where “nearly everyone was connected by blood through one godforsaken calamity or another.” I’ll drink (rotgut) to that.
Hardcover, 261 pages, Random House, $26.95
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