• Natalie Nider

The Devil All The Time by Donald Ray Pollock - Book Review

"It's hard to live a good life. It seems like the devil don't ever let up."

This debut novel from author Donald Ray Pollock became a Netflix movie in September 2020 and was even narrated by the author himself. The movie was grim and captivating; it sparked my curiosity. The book is almost always better than the movie and in this case it was no different.

While the film became a quick favorite for me the novel did one better: the story made for an even better read.

Although it's a classified crime thriller and southern gothic I feel that this novel shares a lot of the same qualities that many readers love about transgressive fiction. It's shocking. It's dark. It paints different parts of life in such a terrifyingly realistic way.

No one is all good. No one is all bad. All of the characters are human and have violent emotions that the reader can get engulfed by.

The New York Times, called this novel "sickly beautiful as it is hard-boiled. [Pollock's] scenes have a rare and unsettling ability to make the reader woozy, the ends of the chapters flicking like black horseflies off the page."

The Devil All The Time follows the lives of a handful of characters. We have seen other stories try to do this as well but I haven't seen anything quite like this before.

The reader eventually does gain clarity as to what the characters all have to do with one another although it is unclear in the beginning. The way that they all play a part in each other's lives whether they know it or not is morbidly fascinating because it's almost as if Pollock saw how real people's lives in small areas often come full circle and drew inspiration from that. It's a calculated novel in that way.

It is a small world for these characters of Knockemstiff and not for good reason.

The character I was most fascinated by is Willard Russell.

A former US Marine who had the painful experience of finding one of his fellow men crucified by Japanese soldiers and then having to perform a mercy kill for his comrade. Needless to say his character development as Arvin's father is tremendous and I was internally screaming most of the time.

His PTSD, his alcoholism, his devotion to God ... it all plays a crucial role in who he becomes as a character, his actions, and most importantly-- what man his son becomes throughout the course of the story.

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.

-An excerpt from The Devil All The Time

The style of writing is also a huge reason as to why this novel is a must-read. Donald Ray Pollock's writing and storytelling is an addictively easy read. The words fall together as if you're witnessing it all happen in real life instead of on a page.

Here is a short excerpt from part one of the novel to give you an idea of what I mean:

It was a Wednesday afternoon in the fall of 1945, not long after the war had ended. The Greyhound made its regular stop in Meade, Ohio, a little paper-mill town an hour south of Columbus that smelled like rotten eggs. Strangers complained about the stench, but the locals liked to brag that it was the sweet smell of money. The bus driver, a soft, sawed-off man who wore elevated shoes and a limp bow tie, pulled in the alley beside the depot and announced a forty-minute break. He wished he could have a cup of coffee, but his ulcer was acting up again. He yawned and took a swig from a bottle of pink medicine he kept on the dashboard. The smokestack across town, by far the tallest structure in this part of the state, belched forth another dirty brown cloud. You could see it for miles, puffing like a volcano about to blow its skinny top.

I don't regret reading this book or even how I came to know about it. I've been missing these kind of stories for a long time now, one to curb my hunger for something that is twisted but believable.

This novel holds many of the great qualities of transgressive fiction and I believe that's why it is such a worthy read for anyone.

What did you think of The Devil All The Time?

Tell me in the comments or reach out via social media.

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