I put down Donald Ray Pollock's short story collection Knockemstiff after only a couple of stories. I remember telling Kevin Sampsell, who was one of several people I know who loved the book, that I found it just too relentlessly tawdry, and if I'm not mistaken he looked at me pityingly.
Pollock's new novel The Devil All the Time ain't exactly cheery, but I guess I find tragic, sordid things easier to bear as long as they've got a narrative throughline. (Which also explains why I'm still reading A Song of Ice and Fire.) For all that it's full of corrupt priests, murderous pornographers, and sexual predators, The Devil All the Time is a curiously fun read—Pollock's got a knack for reminding us that the grotesque can both repel and fascinate.
The book's central character is Arvin Russell, whose life is marked by tragedy from an early age: As a boy, he's forced to participate in animal sacrifices that his father hopes in vain will keep his mother from dying of cancer. They slaughter wild animals and neighborhood dogs—and, eventually, their landlord—dousing a backyard "prayer log" in blood and hanging the bodies on crosses until the yard becomes a rotting tableau, where "maggots dripped from the trees and crosses like squirming drops of white fat."
An that's only in like the first five pages. Read my full review here.
Donald Ray Pollock reads tonight at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside, 7:30 pm