Mike's Reviews > The Devil All the Time

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
3025547
's review
Mar 16, 12

bookshelves: 20th-century, contemporary-literature, noir, gothic-fiction, dark-fiction, crime, murder, suicide, religion, serial-killers, sex, southern-gothic, 2012
Recommended to Mike by: Goodreads Group Pulp Fiction February 2012 selection
Recommended for: Not for lovers of English Cozy Mysteries
Read from January 28 to February 01, 2012 — I own a copy, read count: 1

The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock's tales from a ghost town

“Just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?

Monsters are variations from the accepted normal to a greater or a less degree. As a child may be born without an arm, so one may be born without kindness or the potential of conscience. A man who loses his arms in an accident has a great struggle to adjust himself to the lack, but one born without arms suffers only from people who find him strange. Having never had arms, he cannot miss them. To a monster the norm must seem monstrous, since everyone is normal to himself. To the inner monster it must be even more obscure, since he has no visible thing to compare with others. To a criminal, honesty is foolish. You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous.”
― John Steinbeck, East of Eden


I learned that there are monsters among us at a fairly young age. On a bright spring morning around 1971, I was riding to Foster's Alabama, with a high school friend. There was a car, off the road, and stuck in a ditch.

John said we should pull off and help. But something didn't look right about it. One man stood at the front of the Caddy. Another stood by the trunk. As we approached, the man by the trunk looked at me. There are some people who have nothing behind their eyes. There is no conscience, or soul there, if you will.

I screamed at John to drive, even reaching to shove the steering wheel over to swerve us back on the roadway. It was a bit of good fortune.

Everyone loved Buddy Copeland, a big fireman, who was driving his pickup to go fishing on the Black Warrior River that morning. He had a winch on his truck. Being Buddy, he pulled over to help get the car out of the ditch. When they found him, it appeared he had decided to snack on a ham sandwich before heading on to fish. A blood soaked bit of it lay on the passenger seat by the door where the gun blast had blown it from his mouth. The men who killed him were named Turk and Alexander. They had no love for Buddy. He must have seen the body of the banker in the trunk of the Caddy they had hi-jacked earlier that morning. I watched their trial.

I grew up to hunt men and women who had no conscience, no soul behind the eyes. I was an Assistant District Attorney for almost 28 years. Unlike a lot of ADAs who swaggered around with their badge and a gun on their side, I carried a gun because of need.

Although most of my police friends favored a 9mm, I preferred a Walther PK .380. I was trained to shoot by the best shots in law enforcement. "Don't be a hero. Shoot for center body mass. Double tap. Shoot to kill. You don't, they'll kill you." I was a cop's ADA. I was good at it. I played to win. If I didn't think you were guilty, I refused to take the case. I backed up an officer during an investigation more than once. It was an honor.

My job was not done from a clean office. I went to the scene. I worked cases where sons killed parents for crack money, men shook babies to death, and jealous ex-husbands killed their ex-wives in front of the kids. The baby killer is on death row. When they slip him the needle, I'll be there as a witness.

Don't let Donald Ray Pollock fool you. Knockemstiff is a real place. It's a ghost town now. The nice name for the place is Shady Glen. Look at an Ohio Map from 1919, you won't find it. Look on a 1940 map, there it is. Pollock ought to know. He lived there before heading to Chillicothe to become a laborer at a paper mill for more than thirty years. After that he got an MFA and began to write. His first book is, you guessed it, Knockemstiff. Sherwood Anderson's advice to William Faulkner was good. "Write what you know." Otherwise, we might never have known about Yoknapatawpha County.

I've known places like Knockemstiff. I worked two homicided that ended up on Tuscaloosa's side of the County Line that separated us from Walker County. What began in Walker County ended up down on the Tiger Mine Strip Pit Road. It's a lonely place, where the maggots do their job if the body's not found soon enough.

As Pollock tells us, law enforcement didn't show up much in Knockemstiff. Neither did Walker County Law like to escort Tuscaloosa ADAs up on their Beat 10 road. It was a rough place. The people didn't trust outsiders. I took my own cop friends with me when I had to interview witnesses on Beat 10. They weren't any happier about it than I was.

The Devil All the Time begins idyllically enough. Willard Russell has survived war in the Pacific Theater in WWII. He's on his way home to Coal Creek, West Virginia to his parents home. But a stop in Meade, Ohio, leads him to a diner, the Wooden Spoon, where he meets a waitress named Charlotte. She's a woman he can't forget.

Although he returns to Coal Creek, he finds his mother has picked out a bride for him. Helen is an unattractive young woman. But Willard's mother had promised Helen's mother she'd look out after the poor thing when Helen's mother died.

Willard can't forget Charlotte, returns to Meade and marries her. They rent a house up in the hollers of Knockemsstiff from a cuckolded lawyer. They are happy. Willard and Charlotte have a son, Arvin Eugene. All's well until Charlotte gets the Cancer and Willard constructs an altar out of a fallen log. He and Arvin pray aloud there at the log for Charlotte's recovery. But their prayers are unanswered.

Willard must believe in an Old Testament God. If the prayers don't work by themselves, God must require blood sacrifice. Dogs, sheep, and larger game are strung up and bled to cover the prayer log in an offering satisfying to God. But if God is anywhere around, he's not in Knockemstiff.

Disconsolate from Charlotte's death, Willard cuts his throat at the prayer log, leaving Arvin Eugene an orphan. When Arvin reports his father's death to Deputy Leo Bodecker, he takes him to the bloody clearing in the woods.

"'Goodamn it, Boy,what the hell is this?'

"It's a prayer log,' Arvin said, his voice barely a whisper.

"What? A prayer log?'

Arvin stared at his father's body, 'But it don't work,' he said."


Arvin is sent to live with his grandparents back in Coal Creek. It seems he has a new sister, Leonore. She is the daughter of Helen, the woman Willard's mother had wanted him to marry.

Helen had taken up with a travelling preacher, Roy, who was accompanied by a paraplegic guitarist named Theodore. After Leonore's birth, Roy becomes convinced that if he could bring someone back from the dead, the audiences at his revival would grow by leaps and bounds. God must have been on vacation again. Leonore is just as much an orphan as Arvin Eugene. They come to view one another as brother and sister. Roy and Theodore take it on the lam after the Lazarus routine fails to take.

Years pass. Leo Bodecker, now sheriff, has a new set of problems on his hands. His sister Sandy is peddling her ass out of the restaurant where she waitresses. It seems his old opposition, the former Sheriff is rallying support for a new campaign. Sandy is complaint number one. Leo has got to do about his Sister's indiscriminate exercise of her sexuality, which is bounteously generous. The problem seems to be solved when Sandy settles down with Carl Henderson, a real shutterbug, who whisks Sandy away from town on extended vacations to add to his portfolio.

But there are no easy solutions in The Devil All the Time Carl's idea of a vacation is to wander the back roads picking up hitchhikers using Sandy as his bait. His favorite line of photography is taking photographs of Sandy in the arms of their unfortunate hitchikers, whom Carl dispatches with proficiency, documenting the whole sordid mess on film, developing his work in a private darkroom.

Meanwhile, down in Coal Creek, Arvin Eugene, protector of Leonore, discovers that the new Preacher had rather administer to the youngest of his congregation, including Leonore. When Pastor Teagarden impregnates Leonore, he rejects her, moving on to younger and more attractive congregants.

If God is present anywhere in he finds himself the incarnation of Arvin Eugene, who is packing his father Willard's Luger 9mm pistol, which he had traded for his own Nambu pistol taken as a souvenir ln the Pacific. Fleeing from Coal Creek, following meting out the Lord's vengeance on the misguided Reveverend, Arvin begins the long hitchike back to Knockemstiff.

In an almost incredible symmetry, who should stop to give him a lift but our happy serial killers Sandy and Carl. Arvin Eugene may be the most handsome model, the couple has ever scored. But Arvin is alert and most rescue himself from the shutterbug two which will not endear himself to sheriff Leo Bodecker.

Bodecker and Arvin take one last walk to the prayer log. Whether God is present, or the Devil laughs at one more triumph, the reader must discover for himself.

Pollock is a remarkable new voice in American literature. While he obviously shares comparison with Flannery O'Connor, none of O'Connor's theology is readily apparent in Pollock's work. Rather, picture William Gay decked out in clean carpenter's overalls, and read Provinces of Night or, among the most grotesque, Twilight. Here are the darkest aspects of Cormac McCarthy, and Tom Franklin as seen in Poachers.

Once again, in Donald Ray Pollock we have a novelist who writes that there are monsters among us and that to the monstrous, the norm is simply montrous.
54 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Devil All the Time.
sign in »

Reading Progress

01/29/2012 page 57
22.0% "Holy shades of Flannery O'Connor! William Gay! Tom Franklin! The grotesques of Sherwood Anderson!" 1 comment
show 2 hidden updates…

Comments (showing 1-40 of 40) (40 new)

dateDown_arrow    newest »

message 1: by Diane (new)

Diane Barnes I read this book a gew months ago and really liked it. Southern gothic with a twist.


Melki I'm not going to read your review til I finish the book, but oh how I love your "recommended for:"!!!


message 3: by Stephen (new) - added it

Stephen Wonderful, wonderful review, Mike.


message 4: by Miriam (new)

Miriam But I love cozy English mysteries AND Flannery O'Connor!
Some parts of your review definitely brought The Violent Bear It Away to mind.


message 5: by s.penkevich (new) - added it

s.penkevich Stunning review, this sounds good.


message 6: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten I've got a signed copy setting on the shelf waiting for me to open the pages. I'll need to get to this soon. Great Review Mike.


message 7: by Megan (new) - added it

Megan Fantastic review, this sounds like a book that needs to be added to my list of books to read.


message 8: by Autumn (new)

Autumn This will have to be added to the growing to-read list! Wonderful review!


Josh I plan on reading this soon as part of the Pulp Fiction February 2012 group read. Looking forward to it.


message 10: by Maggie (new) - added it

Maggie this sounds really good


Shovelmonkey1 Excellent review.


message 12: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Maggie wrote: "this sounds really good"

Oh, it is. Don't miss this one.


message 13: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "Excellent review."

Many thanks to my most favorite Monkey.


message 14: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Autumn wrote: "This will have to be added to the growing to-read list! Wonderful review!"

Thanks so much, Autumn. As I often joke, a stack of unread books is the key to immortality. I appreciate your accepting my friendship request.


message 15: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Josh wrote: "I plan on reading this soon as part of the Pulp Fiction February 2012 group read. Looking forward to it."

Josh, I'll be looking forward to the Pulp Fiction discussions. This was a great choice for this month's read. Thanks for reading and commenting.


message 16: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Megan wrote: "Fantastic review, this sounds like a book that needs to be added to my list of books to read."

By all means add it! It's not for the gentle reader. Be prepared for the dark, the dreary, and the bleak. Pollock is so good at it.


message 17: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Jeffrey wrote: "I've got a signed copy setting on the shelf waiting for me to open the pages. I'll need to get to this soon. Great Review Mike."

Jeff, I "scored" a signed copy on eBay. It was shipped in a plain envelope, media mail. It appears a group of evil dwarves took their picks and mattocks to it. I attempted to assist the seller with advice on shipping a signed first print. She "thanked" me for my negative feedback--which happened to have been NEUTRAL. I could have really let fly. But, so it goes. I'm in Oxford, Miss. today. Will be checking with Richard, the owner of Square Books to see if he has signed copies of "Knockemstiff" and this one squirreled away. Keeping my fingers crossed.


message 18: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Stephen wrote: "Wonderful, wonderful review, Mike."

Wonderful, wonderful thanks, Stephen. I appreciate your time in reading and commenting. Always on the lookout for your latest reviews.


message 19: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia It's nice to know he's still good. I absolutely loved his first book of short stories.


message 20: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten Mike wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "I've got a signed copy setting on the shelf waiting for me to open the pages. I'll need to get to this soon. Great Review Mike."

Jeff, I "scored" a signed copy on eBay. It was s..."

Yeah I have learned the hard way about booksellers and amateur book people mailing books in envelopes. Books, especially collectible books, must be shipped in a box. I've, of late, been asking that books be shipped in a box and sometimes they refuse. They are trying to save a few cents on shipping. Good luck Mike I hope you can score some nice copies.


message 21: by Daniel (new)

Daniel You have, once again, moved me with one of your reviews. Thank you.


message 22: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Many thanks for your kind words, Daniel. I am often guilty of interjecting personal experience into my interpretation of a book. I do so on the theory of Samuel Johnson: "A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it."


message 23: by Daniel (new)

Daniel I find your approach refreshing: praise and critique on their own do not a humanistic perspective make.


TheGirlBytheSeaofCortez Good grief! It is dark. I'm one who likes English cozies and Flannery O'Connor, too. Great review, Mike.


message 25: by Mikela (new) - added it

Mikela This book was on my TBR shelf but since reading your review have moved it up.


message 26: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Although I am not a fan of gothic fiction, I did appreciate your review, Mike!


message 27: by Mohammed (last edited Mar 19, 2012 08:50AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mohammed Great review, seeing as i just finished the novel i agree completly. I should read more country american authors of this type in noir or other types of lit.


message 28: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Mikela wrote: "This book was on my TBR shelf but since reading your review have moved it up."

I'll look forward to your reaction following your read. Thanks for your comment.
Mike


message 29: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Mohammed wrote: "Great review, seeing as i just finished the novel i agree completly. I should read more country american authors of this type in noir or other types of lit."

Mohammed, I'll read anything Pollock writes. I do hope he's in the works on his next novel or anthology. Thanks for the comment.
Mike


message 30: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Barbara wrote: "Although I am not a fan of gothic fiction, I did appreciate your review, Mike!"

Barbara, This is without a doubt one of the darkest novels I've ever read. Thanks for your comment. But I don't recommend it for "gentle" readers. The sense of evil is palpable in this one.

Mike


message 31: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike G wrote: "Good grief! It is dark. I'm one who likes English cozies and Flannery O'Connor, too. Great review, Mike."

Ms. G, you may move this one far to the right of Flannery O'Connor. Pollock leaves nothing to the imagination. Consider this one "A Good Man is Hard to Find" in 3-D.

Mike


message 32: by Dawn (new) - added it

Dawn Copley-Lindsey Great Mike! I am getting this one too! Can't wait to get my little eyeballs into it!!! Wow!!! Dawn


message 33: by Jeanette (new)

Jeanette I will give it a try, Mike. I like Tom Franklin and J. Lansdale- and can take the type of uncomfortable although it's not really a genre I seek. But I do know the flat eyes. I've seen a few in my day during the riots in Chicago. And I was very lucky. Many were not.


message 34: by Jeanette (new)

Jeanette Yes, I forgot. I do like some English cozies too, because they are so different than much of my life has been, I think.


message 35: by John (new) - rated it 2 stars

John it's on hold at the library. what an excellent review. Mike we're gonna have to bring you to Prescott for a drink at the local brewery. We have a town square, ash tree lined, the courthouse is the one that Barry Goldwater announced his presidential candidacy way back when. US Representative Sam Steiger was arrested for painting a crosswalk to get from the courthouse across the street to Whiskey Row. We got color too


message 36: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike John wrote: "it's on hold at the library. what an excellent review. Mike we're gonna have to bring you to Prescott for a drink at the local brewery. We have a town square, ash tree lined, the courthouse is th..."

Thanks much, John. I've enjoyed visiting with Trail Members when on the road. Don't be surprised if your Alabama friend shows up in Prescott. I enjoy local breweries. They're a treat. Love the Steiger story. You definitely have local color, too. My former sister-in-law was a Goldwater Girl way back when. There's a lot of truth to opposites attracting. I have a history of falling for Republicans. It makes for interesting conversation. *laughing*


message 37: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Jeanette wrote: "I will give it a try, Mike. I like Tom Franklin and J. Lansdale- and can take the type of uncomfortable although it's not really a genre I seek. But I do know the flat eyes. I've seen a few in my d..."

I have to say this one's rough. It probably surpasses anything that I have read in its degree of violence. That includes Franklin and McCarthy and William Gay.

The writing is excellent. Pollock is an interesting character himself. He has come far. I'm wondering when we'll see his next work published.


message 38: by Jeanette (new)

Jeanette It was too joyless for me.


message 39: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Jeanette wrote: "It was too joyless for me."

Many readers have had the same reaction. It is a very dark read. About the only thing that tops this in violence is Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy, which Harold Bloom described as the most disturbing book he had ever read.


message 40: by Sue (new)

Sue What an excellent review, Mike, but I think it may be a bit too much for me. I can read my occasional crime/mystery novel that has violence...like Kellerman or Sandford...but the most literary ones I find even more disturbing and hard to take. I guess it's the quality of the writing.


back to top