Review by John for The Devil All the Time ~ by Donald Ray Pollock (ARC edition)
A powerful gothic Americana tale that follows the gradually interlocking lives (and deaths) of a strange cast of raw characters. Not a light read.
About: Following some truly horrific experiences in the second world war, a troubled Willard Russell returns to his mother’s home in rural America. He eventually marries a waitress and they live a hard-scrabble life trying to get by and to bring up their son, Arvin. Willard is driven to the depths of despair as he seems powerless to stop his wife’s long agonizing death by cancer. Arvin is drawn into the twisted and desperate measures Willard undertakes to try and save his beloved partner.
Meanwhile a variety of troubled characters are introduced with their own stories as lives gradually converge. These include a husband-and-wife team of serial killers that drive the rural highways during their “holidays” looking for innocent hitch-hikers to become their next victims; an outrageous spider-wielding preacher and his crippled sidekick that go on the run after a gruesome murder; a preacher that sexually preys on a string of teenage girls; and a crooked sheriff striving to stay clean enough to win the next election, not helped by his sister turning tricks at the local diner.
In the middle of it all is Arvin – he’s growing up to be a decent young man and protective of his remaining family, but he has some violent tendencies that he’s picked up from his troubled father. The characters are all linked by a series of events and relationships, and as the story builds to a brutal climax, you know that in this world there can be few winners.
John’s thoughts: I’m not usually a fan of novels based around hard lives and a cast of troubled characters, but this one draws you in and keeps you reading. It certainly has more than its fair share of nasty people and loathsome events, but through it all you’re willing for some good things to happen. And in truth it’s difficult not to be fascinated by some of the appalling horrors in the story.
Whether good or bad (and it’s mostly the latter), Pollock has created many interesting personalities in this book. Arvin is a product of his tough upbringing, raw experiences and harsh life. He certainly has some rough edges but you do want things to turn out well for him. Of the others in the book, perhaps the serial killers were the most fascinating. It’s tough to imagine two more awful people, but they are well-constructed and I couldn’t help avidly following developments in their bizarre relationship, wondering how things were going to end up for them. In their cases, you don’t want things to turn out so well!
Despite the many gothic horrors in the story, it does have a lot of gritty realism. You do get a good sense of what it must have been like living a hard life in rural America through the 1940s and 1950s. Not all of America was the land of plenty. It’s a tough, twisting, brutal novel, and it’s one of those that you feel kind of guilty for liking. But like it I certainly did. I’d rate this 4 stars and recommend it to anyone who likes a bit of gruesome, gothic, Americana horror.
As always John will be answering any comments for this book, and looks forward to your thoughts. A perfect book for this time of year the Halloween Spirit is descending and we are so excited. Aren’t you?
Have a grand Sunday!