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The Devil All the Time
Cover of The Devil All the Time
The Devil All the Time
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Now a Netflix film starring Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson
A dark and riveting vision of 1960s 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 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.

Now a Netflix film starring Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson
A dark and riveting vision of 1960s 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 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.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One 1

    It was a Wednesday afternoon in the fall of 1945, not long after the war had ended. The Greyhound made its regular stop in Meade, Ohio, a little paper-mill town an hour south of Columbus that smelled like rotten eggs. Strangers complained about the stench, but the locals liked to brag that it was the sweet smell of money. The bus driver, a soft, sawed-off man who wore elevated shoes and a limp bow tie, pulled in the alley beside the depot and announced a forty-minute break. He wished he could have a cup of coffee, but his ulcer was acting up again. He yawned and took a swig from a bottle of pink medicine he kept on the dashboard. The smokestack across town, by far the tallest structure in this part of the state, belched forth another dirty brown cloud. You could see it for miles, puffing like a volcano about to blow its skinny top.

    Leaning back in his seat, the bus driver pulled his leather cap down over his eyes. He lived right outside of Philadelphia, and he thought that if he ever had to live in a place like Meade, Ohio, he'd go ahead and shoot himself. You couldn't even find a bowl of lettuce in this town. All that people seemed to eat here was grease and more grease. He'd be dead in two months eating the slop they did. His wife told her friends that he was delicate, but there was something about the tone of her voice that sometimes made him wonder if she was really being sympathetic. If it hadn't been for the ulcer, he would have gone off to fight with the rest of the men. He'd have slaughtered a whole platoon of Germans and shown her just how goddamn delicate he was. The biggest regret was all the medals he'd missed out on. His old man once got a certificate from the railroad for not missing a single day of work in twenty years, and had pointed it out to his sickly son every time he'd seen him for the next twenty. When the old man finally croaked, the bus driver tried to talk his mother into sticking the certificate in the casket with the body so he wouldn't have to look at it anymore. But she insisted on leaving it displayed in the living room as an example of what a person could attain in this life if he didn't let a little indigestion get in his way. The funeral, an event the bus driver had looked forward to for a long time, had nearly been ruined by all the arguing over that crummy scrap of paper. He would be glad when all the discharged soldiers finally reached their destinations so he wouldn't have to look at the dumb bastards anymore. It wore on you after a while, other people's accomplishments.

    Private Willard Russell had been drinking in the back of the bus with two sailors from Georgia, but one had passed out and the other had puked in their last jug. He kept thinking that if he ever got home, he'd never leave Coal Creek, West Virginia, again. He'd seen some hard things growing up in the hills, but they didn't hold a candle to what he'd witnessed in the South Pacific. On one of the Solomons, he and a couple of other men from his outfit had run across a marine skinned alive by the Japanese and nailed to a cross made out of two palm trees. The raw, bloody body was covered with black flies. They could still see the man's heart beating in his chest. His dog tags were hanging from what remained of one of his big toes: Gunnery Sergeant Miller Jones. Unable to offer anything but a little mercy, Willard shot the marine behind the ear, and they took him down and covered him with rocks at the foot of the cross. The inside of Willard's head hadn't been the same since.

    When he heard the tubby bus driver yell something about a break, Willard stood up and started toward the door, disgusted with the two sailors. In his opinion, the navy...
About the Author-
  • DONALD RAY POLLOCK is the author of the novel The Devil All the Time and the story collection Knockemstiff, recipient of the 2009 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Fellowship. He worked as a laborer at the Mead Paper Mill in Chillicothe, Ohio, from 1973 to 2005. He holds an MFA from Ohio State University.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from May 2, 2011
    If Pollock's powerful collection Knockemstiff was a punch to the jaw, his follow-up, a novel set in the violent soul-numbing towns of southern Ohio and West Virginia, feels closer to a mule's kick, and how he draws these folks and their inevitably hopeless lives without pity is what the kick's all about. Willard Russell is back from the war, on a Greyhound bus passing through Meade, Ohio, in 1945 when he falls for a pretty waitress in a coffee shop. Haunted by what he's seen in the Pacific and by the lovely Charlotte, he finds her again, marries her and has a son, Arvin. But happiness is elusive, and while Willard teaches his only son some serious survival skills ("You just got to pick the right time," he tells him about getting back at bullies. "They's a lot of no-good sonofabitches out there"), Charlotte sickens, Willard goes mad—sacrificing animals and worse at his altar in the woods—and Arvin's sent to his grandmother Emma in Coal Creek. Emma's also raising Leonora, the daughter of a timid religious mother who was murdered, possibly by her father, Roy, the visiting preacher at the Coal Creek Church of the Holy Ghost Sanctified, who along with his guitar-playing, crippled cousin, Theodore, in a wheelchair after drinking strychnine to prove his love for Jesus, has disappeared. And there's on-the-take sheriff Lee Bodecker, whose sister Sandy and her perverted serial killer husband, Carl Henderson, troll the interstates for male hitchhikers he refers to as "models." Pollock pulls them all together, the pace relentless, and just when it seems like no one can ever catch a break, a good guy does, but not in any predictable way.

  • Kirkus

    May 15, 2011

    This debut novel occasionally flashes the promise that the author showed in his highly praised short-story collection, but falls short of fulfilling it.

    The unflinching, often hilarious stories in Knockemstiff (2008) drew considerable attention to a writer whose own story was as fascinating as his fiction. A mill worker for three decades in blue-collar Ohio (where he sets his fiction), Pollock belatedly earned an MFA from Ohio State and published his collection of stories in which themes and characters were so interwoven that it might have passed as a novel. It was inevitable that his next book would be an actual novel, and billed as such, but this isn't the total knockout that one might have expected. Instead, its various plot strands, which inevitably come together at the end, might have worked better as individual stories. Set again in rural, impoverished Knockemstiff and nearby Mead, the novel opens with the relationship of young Arvin Russell and his father, Willard, a haunted World War II vet who marries a beautiful woman and then watches her die from cancer. He alternates between praying and drinking, neither of which do much to alleviate his pain. In fact, his son "didn't know which was worse, the drinking or the praying." The tragic ways of the world (in a novel that sometimes aims at dark comedy) leave Arvin an orphan. As he's maturing into young adulthood, raised by his grandmother, the plot shifts include a huckster pair of religious revivalists, a preacher who preys on young girls and a husband-and-wife pair of serial killers (she seduces their victims, whom they call "models," and he photographs and kills them). Though there's a hard-bitten realism to the character of Arvin, most of the rest seem like gothic noir redneck caricature (some with latent homosexual tendencies). A piece of cheap motel wall art could stand as the aesthetic credo: "It served no purpose that he could think of, other than to remind a person that the world was a sorry-ass place to be stuck living in."

    Pollock remains a singular stylist, but he has better books in him than this. 

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2011

    Pollock first triumphed with his story collection, Knockemstiff, about the Midwestern town of that name where he grew up and its sad but tough residents. Here he moves on to full-length fiction with a terse examination of America's violent underbelly. Lots of in-house excitement; watch.

    Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    May 1, 2011
    An improbably connected network of criminals and degenerates constitutes the cast of this dark novel, loosely centered on the young Arvin Russell. Arvins father is the first of many sad and disturbing characters. A scarred veteran, he becomes completely unhinged when his wife gets cancer and draws his son into a mad, pagan world of endless prayers and sacrifices. Soon an orphan, Arvin moves from Ohio to his fathers native West Virginia. Further misfits turn up in both those places as Arvin grows up and struggles with his own violent impulses. There is the crooked sheriff, whose sister happens to be one-half of a serial-killing duo; the nutty, accidentally murderous preacher and his goading, debauched cousin; the pedophile; the cuckold. This is an almost too sordid landscape, with levels of dysfunction and criminality all but absurd. But Pollock earns comparison to Flannery OConnor, not just through a similar presence of ominous religiosity, small-town depravity, and murder-in-the-woods but also in the laden atmosphere and significance extracted from what might be just melodrama.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2011, American Library Association.)

  • The New York Times Book Review "Brutally creative. . . . Pollock knows how to dunk readers into a scene and when to pull them out gasping."
  • Details "For fans of No Country for Old Men . . . sure to give you goose bumps."
  • The Wall Street Journal "Disarmingly smooth prose startled by knife-twists of black humor. . . . Expertly employs the conventions of Southern Gothic horror."
  • The Oregonian "Reads as if the love child of O'Connor and Faulkner was captured by Cormac McCarthy, kept in a cage out back and forced to consume nothing but onion rings, Oxycontin and Terrence Malick's Badlands."
  • Elle "[Pollock] doesn't get a word wrong in this super-edgy American Gothic stunner."
  • The Onion, A.V. Club "Features a bleak and often nightmarish vision of the decades following World War II, a world where redemption, on the rare occasions when it does come to town, rides shotgun with soul-scarring consequences."
  • The New York Times "Mr. Pollock's new novel is, if anything, even darker than the Knockemstiff, and its violence and religious preoccupations venture into Flannery O'Connor territory."
  • The Daily Beast "Donald Ray Pollock's engaging and proudly violent first novel...suggests a new category of fiction--grindhouse literary. Subtle characterization: check. Well-crafted sentences: check. Enthusiastic amounts of murder and mayhem: check, check."
  • The Columbus Dispatch "Beneath the gothic horror is an Old Testament sense of a moral order in the universe, even if the restoration of that order itself requires violence."
  • Esquire "A smorgasbord of grotesque characters trapped in a pressure-cooker plot. . . . Brutal fun."
  • Philadelphia Citypaper "For a first novel so soaked in stale sweat and bright fresh blood, Pollock's sweat is well-earned, and his blood is wise."
  • Dayton Daily News "A gallery of reprobates and religious fanatics... are multidimensional, flawed human beings."
  • Philadelphia Inquirer "[The Devil All the Time is] a world unto its own, a world vividly and powerfully brought to life by a literary stylist who packs a punch as deadly as pulp-fiction master Jim Thompson and as evocative and morally rigorous as Russell Banks."
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch "Stunning . . . . One wild story . . . gives us sex, murder, mayhem and some of the most bizarre characters in fiction today."
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