This week, I review three books that left a profound impression on me – The Big Three – this past month. I devoured them and found them too nourishing not to share. Dig in.
To close it out, The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock.
Small towns tend to breed big problems.
In my experience, no other active author captures the breadth and abysmal depth of this better than Donald Ray Pollock. The Devil All the Time is a grand narrative woven from sinews of wickedness from all stripe:
The pettiness. The psychosis. The craven desperation. These themes thrive in small town crime fiction because they’re fostered by the qualities of small town life. They can live in urban fiction, but cities are typified by their gloss and industry. Small towns are defined by their grit and isolation.
Each of Pollock’s characters is a vehicle for a distinct breed of madness. He includes the little tyrant in the form of the county Sheriff. Another character, lacking in means and hope in this world, tries to win assistance from the next world through crazed ritual. Yet another finds their pursuit of fame perverted into journeys of masturbatory murder.
The only lovely thing in The Devil All the Time is the writing. Pollock concentrates on menace over gore, focuses on the little treasures that give a life value and never paints in black and white. His characters are often vile, but their vileness is not broadly drawn. It is not unprecedented. And even though it is portrayed without apology or judgment, it is never done up ugly either.
This is just about the prettiest record of atrocity being printed today.
Dorothy Allison, of Bastard Out of Carolina and Trash comes to mind as Pollock’s closest literary cousin. Both treat their subjects with fascinating nuance and unflinching candor. Pollock excels at scope where Allison brings an agonizing personal depth. The Devil All the Time sets its diverse characters’ stories sailing from points all around small town experience, leading them along a grim journey until the soul-shaking climax.
It has it all: The enthralling descriptions and reflection. The corruption brewed to a boil by isolation. The expert crafting of divergent paths into a single course through the worst reaches of the heartland.
All it needs is your interest. And believe me, The Devil All the Time is worth it.