Tressa 's Reviews > The Devil All the Time

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

's review
Jul 29, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: serial-killers, 2012

If you're a fan of crime fiction and don't mind when it bleeds over into southern gothic, then do not miss Donald Ray Pollock's first novel, The Devil All the Time. Critics and readers are comparing his work about the sinning and redemption that takes place by sweaty characters in small hick towns to Flannery O'Connor's. That's a spot-on comparison, especially if compared to O'Connor's novels Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away, but I would add that some of the more repugnant scenes remind me of my first—and only—Erskine Caldwell book: Tobacco Road. (My constitution was too weak to mark off any more books from Caldwell's bibliography.) If you haven't read Caldwell but have seen the movie Baby Doll directed by Elia Kazan and written by Tennessee Williams, then you'll know what I'm talking about.

Devil kicks off with Willard Russell's story. Willard returns from his tour of duty in the South Pacific, unable to shake the image of a skinned and crucified soldier—very much alive—he came across one day on patrol. Tortured by nightmares of his war experience, he gets many years of reprieve when he falls hard for and marries a gentle waitress named Charlotte; they have a son together named Arvin Eugene, who becomes the hub of the story. When Charlotte gets cancer, the devout Willard tries to cure her through prayer. When Charlotte's cancer spreads, Willard makes more visits to the prayer log in the woods near his house, taking along young Arvin to pray until he's hoarse, too. As the cancer eats away at his beloved wife, the desperate Willard begins supplementing his prayers with animal sacrifice, starting small and progressing to sheep and dogs.

Going on the premise that every one of us must fight the "devil all the time," Pollock shows how some of us, though we may lose the fight, are more conflicted about it when we do. Spanning the years from the mid-1940s to the mid-'60s, in Knockemstiff, Ohio, and West Virginia, residents of these towns cross paths, double-cross each other, and sometimes manage to rescue each other, at least for a short time. A sampling of the residents you'll meet include husband and wife serial killers who scour the area looking for "models" to photograph; a traveling preacher and his jealous wheelchair-bound companion; a dandy preacher who enjoys defiling young ladies in his congregation; and a sheriff sucked into the corruption on his beat. The gritty The Devil All the Time has made it onto my Favorite Books of 2012 list.

Meet the Author: Doesn't he have the face of someone who'd write a book like this? And the name to go along with it? He also has the background, too. It may surprise you to know that Knockemstiff is the name of a real town—well, holler—in Ohio. Donald Ray Pollock dropped out of school at 17 to work in a meatpacking plant, then spent 32 years at a paper mill. His life does get better. He's still married to his first wife, and he graduated from college in 2009 and published the short story collection Knockemstiff, which earned the 2009 PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship. Can't wait to see what Donald Ray writes next. Read more about him at


Have you ever itched to get back to reading a book you had to put down because life interrupted? That's what happened with me and The Devil All the Time. I'm going to let this book sink in and I may write a review, but I don't think I can do it justice. A perfect book from start to finish; every character rings true; every sad story comes full circle. Do not pass up this gritty, small-town gothic or you will miss some great storytelling.
26 likes · flag

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

Quotes Tressa Liked

Donald Ray Pollock
“Unless he had whiskey running through his veins, Willard came to the clearing every morning and evening to talk to God. Arvin didn't know which was worse, the drinking or the praying. As far back as he could remember, it seemed that his father had fought the Devil all the time.”
Donald Ray Pollock, The Devil All the Time

Reading Progress

July 29, 2011 – Shelved
July 29, 2011 – Shelved as: serial-killers
Started Reading
April 24, 2012 – Shelved as: 2012
April 24, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-27 of 27) (27 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Trudi Yay! I'm so glad you loved this one. It blew my mind, I tell you :)

Tressa I get a high whenever I read 5-star books. Don't you? :-D

Maciek I liked this one a lot for the reasons you mentioned. I thought that it felt authentic and had a real atmosphere and a sense of place. His short story collection is also very good.

Tressa Can't wait to read his short stories.

I love authentic characters where nothing they say is forced.

message 5: by Tim (new) - added it

Tim Asbury Gonna have to check this one out!

Maciek Great review! You need to read his short stories. His novel was excellent, but he's also a great short story writer, a skill which not all writers posess today.

Tressa Tim, you'll love it.

Thanks, Maciek. I usually don't (can't, lol) write a beefy review weeks after reading a book, but this one was easy because it did stay with me. I don't seek out short stories, but I love his characters and have Knockemstiff on my Kindle to read.

Maciek I do seek out short stories, and that collection was a great one. You'll enjoy it. Also, you need to read Last Days. That was a terrific find!

Tressa Oh, yeah, I remember you praising Last Days. Remind me to read it after Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer, lol.

Maciek Sure thing. Hope you'll enjoy the Lincoln one. Let me know how that is. I hope Abe is being a badass.

Tressa I'll let you know. Just remember when you see me on GR posting that I'm done with Abe, make me read Last Days.

Maciek Oh, I will. I'm good at pestering people.

Tressa You don't say!

Trudi Awesome review Tressa!!! This will definitely be a book I revisit at another time -- and yes, can't WAIT to see what Pollock comes up with next :)

Tressa Thanks, Trudi. I'd like to read the rest of Arvin's story.

Trace Tressa this sounds great! Putting it on my list now!!!

Tressa I loved it! Hope you like it, too.

Trace I'm only 26 pages into this but I am loving it already!

Tressa Glad you're loving in, Trace! It does suck you in. Lots of gross parts, though. Ugh.

Trace haven't come across any gross-ities yet (is that even a word? lol) but am enjoying the atmosphere of it. I can tell it's going to be sickening though! I seriously wish I had more time in the day/night to read!!

Tressa It's a true page turner. I need to read some of his other books.

Trace just finished this one and loved it Tressa. :-) now I'm onto Reapers are the Angels.

Tressa Good to see it was a 5-star read for you! It certainly had a lot of original stories in it, and I had no idea what was going to happen next. I liked Reapers, too.

Tompopaageo I love that picture of him. He looks mean...until you notice the bunny rabbits on his porch :)

Tressa LMBO! More serial killers should carry around concrete bunnies.

Tompopaageo Haha there's nothing like a garden ornament to add to your street cred.

Tressa Or to make people suspect you less.

back to top