Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

From the acclaimed author of Knockemstiff —called “powerful, remarkable, exceptional” by the Los Angeles Times —comes a dark and riveting vision of America that delivers literary excitement in the highest degree. 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 plot lines 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.

Well I wasn't deeply moved and didn't think it was all that taut. The novel is very noir/pulp fiction, and reminded me a little of Yellow Medicine by Anthony Neil Smith, just without the edge. It was a fast read and tied up into a neat little bow at the end, but it was a little too neat for my taste. If I was to recommend this or Yellow Medicine for this type of book, Medicine would still win.

3 stars

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