The Devil All the Time (2011) by Donald Ray Pollock – Fiction
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Brutal. That’s the adjective that comes to mind when I set down to write about this book. It’s about brutal and hard characters. The majority of the innocent ones get hurt, and while the majority of the evil ones find their end, it’s in a way where you wish they suffered more.
The Devil All the Time is a novel about poor, desperate, and some evil, characters. The main character is Arvin, a young man who witnessed his mother slowly die a painful death from cancer and his father slowly turn to madness from grief and eventually suicide. Arvin is the character readers cling to in a novel like this.
Sandy and Carl, a murderous, psychopathic couple, hunt male hitchhikers. Carl is a disgusting man. I cringed every time I realized that the next chapter was about him. While Sandy is clearly a victim of Carl’s depravity, she is not innocent in her role either.
Roy, a traveling preacher who knows nothing of God’s word, and a disabled man named Theodore, are swindlers that take advantage of a religious town. They prey on the weak while attempting to “save” a community.
Lastly, we have Lee Bodecker, a sheriff of the small community and brother to Sandy, looking for bigger fame. A struggling alcoholic, Bodecker falls prey to corruption.
The only beauty to be found in The Devil All the Time comes from the masterful way that Pollock is able to intertwine all these stories, leading to a climax that wraps up in the last page. Throughout the novel, the reader switches from all of these characters points of view. They all end up effecting the other in some way, and I envy writers who have the ability to see a story from that angle and write it cohesively. Pollock is able to do that.
This novel is again, brutal. It does not have a nice happy ending, but an ending that still feels somewhat satisfying. That may be the point. Pollock provides a list of characters that are unredeemable in every way and heightens everyone of their flaws until the reader hates them. Yet, you keep turning the page. You want to know that they will all get the ending they deserve.
The Devil All the Time was recently made into a movie available on Netflix, staring Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson.
Lover of the written word.