The Devil All The Time by Donald Ray Pollock

Well howdy there friends! It’s been a little while. How have you been? How’s your life? Now that I’m finally done organizing bachelorette parties and almost balling while trying to give speeches and drinking my body weight in fermented, tasty beverages, we can finally get back to the thing that brought us all here: delightful, delicious, wonderful books.

Or, you know, this one.

Now before we get into the review I want to make clear that there are things that I did really like about this novel. Pollock is a hell of a writer, and even when I wasn’t having any fun, I was still burning through it, pulled from one situation to the next to see where it lead. That’s enough, in my opinion, to classify this as a good book, even if it’s not a particularly enjoyable one.

Unfortunately, you can be the wordsmith of our age, writing the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read, but if your character work is lacking, you’re going to lose me. The reason that I read is to experience other people’s lives, to slide myself into the brain of someone else. It’s why I’m here. And I’m not against doing that with a vile person every now and again, but…they have to feel real. I have to buy it. Every character in this book was a caricature. All of them the vilest, slimiest, most self-serving pieces of trash that humanity could come up with. So over the top in their quirky grossness that they didn’t even really seem human anymore. The first time he introduced a couple of them I was intrigued, the second time a little wary, and by the fourth or fifth just tired of it. If they weren’t dumb and vile to their bones they were evil. If they were neither, if there was a single ounce of goodness in them, then they were pathetic and doomed to suffer. It was just an unending slog of sadness and pain, with nowhere to look for redemption of any kind.

Maybe that’s the crux of this whole thing. No redemption for anybody. And yes, I know, not every story needs it, not everybody needs to find absolution, but I don’t feel like there was a single satisfying character arc in this whole book. Shitty people kept being shitty till they died from it, nobody got any better, nobody learned any lessons, nobody did anything at all, except for damage and wound and die. Even the main character, the one I think you’re supposed to relate to the most, doesn’t change much. After the first thirty or so pages he grows into a man who uses violence to solve his problems, and that’s where he stays until the end. And he is better than the others, but he’s not good. He’s motivated by a slightly more moral viewpoint than almost anybody else in the novel, but he’s still brutal. He may not want to kill, but when he’s backed into a situation where he feels like he has to, he does. Over and over again. To the point where it’s tiresome, where I didn’t see what the author was trying to say, if he was trying to say anything at all.

I’d recommend this book for people who like southern gothics that tend towards the gritty and filthy and violent, people who like their characters as gross and mean and pathetic as they can get them, and anyone who doesn’t mind a story where the morale is “people are shitty and will probably try and kill you”.

VBR

 

 

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