In my earlier post about librarian boob humor I mentioned a fellow Ohioan and author, Donald Ray Pollock. His collection of short stories, KNOCKEMSTIFF, was so riveting that I picked up his new novel, THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME and proceeded to lose all contact with the outside world for three straight hours. That’s right, cover to cover baby.
THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME is split between Southern Ohio and West Virginia, as our cast of characters pursue and are pursued by their sins and destinies. Arvin Russell, haunted by the memory of the blood soaked prayer log his desperate father depended upon to save his dying wife. Lenora, the devout, unattractive girl orphaned when her father killed her mother in order to return to the life of a traveling minister. Carl and Sandy, an unhappy couple hoarding their change to fund another road trip designed around torturing and murdering hitchhikers for Carl’s unique photographs. Lee Bodecker, the local sheriff determined to stop his sister’s whoring in order to keep his name clean, though he himself is guilty of much worse.
THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME is not for the weak of heart or those looking for a happy ending. It is brutal, honest Midwestern gothic storytelling at it’s height, literature of place in a setting readers will be glad to escape from, though it will never leave them. While despair and depravity may be the coin of the realm in cerebral literature, Pollock’s distinctive power lies not in artful and attractive villains with well-delivered lines, but rather in the aging waitress-whore whose cigarettes are turning her teeth yellow, the virgin-hounding overweight minister, who, when pulled out from under the cloud of their cigarettes or from behind the pulpit prove to be not incarnations of evil but tragically human.
The characters weave through their lives on a tragic collision course with one another, an intricate braid of storytelling in which there are few people to root for, but a shade of our weaker selves in everyone.