Review: The Devil All The Time by Donald Ray Pollack
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.-Summary from Goodreads
Ok, let me preface my review but stating that this is not usually my kind of book. It's grim, dark, twisted and very, very disturbing. However, I was strangely enthralled by this book.
Every single character is heavily flawed and most are completely reprehensible. There are religious zealots, murderous couples, sexually deviant preachers, corrupted cops, and more. We start with one small family containing a WWII vet who has been heavily traumatized by events he witnessed in the war. He attempts to build a life with the beautiful wife he found on his return. They have a son Arvin, who ends up being one of the only likable characters in the entire book.
Through the story of Arvin and his father Willard's story, you get glimpses into the lives of many other characters. In the beginning all of the characters seem only distantly connected, either through living in the same city or knowing some of the same people. Yet, as the story develops you see these characters stories interconnecting and weaving together into a powerful conclusion.
This book is not for the easily offended or faint at heart. It's gritty and raw and filled with language, sex, and violence. Pollock does manage to make the violence shocking and disturbing without becoming too graphic which I was thankful for. He lays the groundwork so you know what's going on but doesn't feel the need to describe it in great detail. I would recommend this book for adults but if some of these themes bother you, this may not be the book for you.
*Disclaimer- I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.