"If Pollock’s powerful collection Knockemstiff was a punch to the jaw, his follow-up, a novel set in the violent soul-numbing towns of southern Ohio and West Virginia, feels closer to a mule’s kick, and how he draws these folks and their inevitably hopeless lives without pity is what the kick’s all about. Willard Russell is back from the war, on a Greyhound bus passing through Meade, Ohio, in 1945 when he falls for a pretty waitress in a coffee ship. Haunted by what he’s seen in the Pacific and by the lovely Charlotte, he finds her again, marries her, and has a son, Arvin. But happiness is elusive, and while Willard teaches his only son some serious survival skills (“You just got to pick the right time,” he tells him about getting back at bullies. “They’s a lot of no-good sonofabitches out there"), Charlotte sickens, Willard goes mad—sacrificing animals and worse at his altar in the woods—and Arvin’s sent to his grandmother Emma in Coal Creek. Emma’s also raising Leonora, the daughter of a timid religious mother who was murdered, possibility by her father, Roy, the visiting preacher at the Coal Creek Church of the Holy Ghost Sanctified, who along with his guitar-playing, crippled cousin, Theodore, in a wheelchair after drinking strychnine to prove his love for Jesus, has disappeared. And there’s on-the-take sheriff Lee Bodecker, whose sister Sandy and her perverted serial killer husband, Carl Henderson, troll the interstates for male hitchhikers he refers to as “models.” Pollock pulls them all together, the pace relentless, and just when it seems like no one can ever catch a break, a good guy does, but not in any predictable way."—Publishers Weekly (starred)
"The God-fearing hard-luck characters who populate Donald Ray Pollock’s debu...