I knew I would like The Devil All the Time but sort of feel bashful to admit to it…especially since I loved it. Grotesque from its outset, Donald Ray Pollock’s novel follow-up to his hit short story collection Knockemstiff weaves tormented lives in backwater Ohio like barbed wire and burning fuse.
The story opens with a chilling vision of a man and his son paying daily sacrifice in blood for the sake of the dying wife, the beloved mother. There’s little else to be done but watch idly by as a brutal disease has its way with her.
Much like its visceral ache of a prologue, the novel observes a similar trend in all its characters’ lives, as the brutal disease of human weakness and selfish ambition proves able to turn monsters out of men. Yet out of its erratic, pot-banging cast comes a deeper redemption than its snake oil preacher could hock on his own. It’s a grittier peace, a sort of blessed unrest that puts Pollock’s characters in the way of their own demons, to either cope or collapse under the strain.
The surprise is sympathy. Even the cruel, the mean, the depraved, the wanton and corrupt are given an earnest voice, each one warm as whiskey and sharp as the smell of a carcass on the highway, so the reader can’t help but ride along the hot open road till the novel opens the passenger door and kicks you on your keister.
I haven’t had this many jitters over a book in a long time. Suspense twists through and through, and the narrator never flags in his laid-back drawl. If you liked No Country for Old Men (Cormac McCarthy), or if you found yourself (like me) aghast and entranced by Under the Banner of Heaven (Jon Krakauer), The Devil All the Time is your perfect summer read.