Warning: The Devil All the Time
is not for the faint of heart. Donald Ray Pollock
's debut novel is so intensely graphic that Details
magazine was able to pick out five of its most disturbing passages
--and there's some room for debate about whether they really found the roughest spots. This will come as no surprise to fans of Pollock's 2009 short story collection, Knockemstiff
--in fact, the novel begins and ends in the same southern Ohio community where those stories were set--but if you've never read him before, you should know going in: There will be blood.
The gore and violence, though, are necessary components to Pollock's story, which grapples with some of our most powerful primal urges: lust, faith, corruption, and revenge. The novel spans twenty years, from a soldier's falling in love with a waitress in a coffee shop on his way home from the Second World War to their son's desperate downward spiral. In between, the cast includes a married couple who spend their vacations driving around the country murdering hitchhikers, a preacher who covers his body in spiders to prove the Lord has conquered his fears, and another preacher with a deep bent for sadistic dominance. "I do believe the world is a pretty sad, troubled, and violent place," Pollock says in an interview with the A.V. Club
. "Maybe that's why I focus on the trouble... And I learned early on, you have to have some trouble in your stories."
"It's really strange, because I'm actually a pretty happy person," he adds. "I'm not walking around giggling or anything like that, but I've got this feeling that everything is okay with my life." His literary success is a testament to that: Other than a brief trip to Florida after dropping out of high school, Pollock spent his entire adult life working in a paper mill in the county where he grew up, doing some writing on the side. Finally, in 2005, at the age of 50, he felt confident enough about the stories he'd produced to quit his job and study creative writing at Ohio State; Knockemstiff
came out before he graduated in 2009. Two years and one novel later, and readers mention him in the same breath as great writers like Flannery O'Connor, Jim Thompson, and Raymond Carver--an auspicious start to a Character Approved career.
[Image: Kevin Mears]