Thursday, July 21, 2011

Review - The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

Title: The Devil All the Time (Amazon)
Author: Donald Ray Pollock
Publisher: Doubleday
Date Released: July 2011
Pages: 304
Genre: Adult Fiction
Source: Publisher for review

In The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock has written a novel that marries the twisted intensity of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers with the religious and Gothic over­tones of Flannery O’Connor at her most haunting.
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.
Donald Ray Pollock braids his plotlines into a taut narrative that will leave readers astonished and deeply moved. With his first novel, he proves himself a master storyteller in the grittiest and most uncompromising American grain. (Goodreads)

Kim’s Take: This story of the darker side of humanity was excellent! I actually felt sort of bad for liking it so much and have a hard time explaining what I liked so much about it. With a compelling cast of characters including murderers, religious zealots, and psychopaths, Pollock paints the world as an ugly place.

Beginning at the end of WWII, the story starts with a character named Willard Russell, who moves from his hillbilly mountain home to Ohio to marry a woman he met on his way home from the war. When Willard’s wife is dying of cancer, he forces his son, Arvin, to pray at a horrifying prayer log he has set up in the woods which is surrounded by dead, sacrificial animals. Pollock is so good at description that I felt I could smell how putrid the area was with dead animal carcasses and animal blood. When Willard’s wife dies, other deranged characters are brought to life.

There is a psychopathic married couple, a religious freak with a handicapped, pedophile cousin, a backwards, murdering sheriff, and a few other demented characters. It is a story full of violence, pain, and betrayal, packed with some very chilling characters. There were a few parts that were a little hard to read due to the violence, but I have read worse. The ways in which these characters are intertwined are sometimes shocking.

There is no one character focused on more than any other, but the sense is there that the story would ultimately come down to Arvin.

Pollock’s style of writing is amazing as he paints a world of hopelessness for these evil minded characters. There were no boring parts in this book at all and I was so mesmerized by the story, I was addicted to this book right up until the end. I have to say I was rather hesitant when I first received this book because even the cover is disturbing. I am so glad I did not let that sway my decision to read it.

If you can handle some violence and depravity, I couldn’t recommend this book any more highly. Pollock also has a book of short stories that I have already ordered because I think he has an excellent writing style and can sure spin a tale. I can’t imagine anything he writes could ever be boring!

Kim’s Rating: 5/5


  1. This sounds very haunting and dark... I'm not sure if it's my kind of book but you have intrigued me a lot.

    I'll put this one in the maybe pile for when I want to read something different. :D

    Great review

  2. Hmm, haven't really read these types of books. It sounds great. Thanks for the review!