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The Devil All the Time Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 12, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 293 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, July 2011: With The Devil All the Time, author Donald Ray Pollock has crafted an exceptionally gritty, twisted page-turner. This follow-up to 2008's Knockemstiff is set in the Midwest during the mid-century, but reads more like a gothic Western. Lawlessness roams the rural, god-fearing landscape of Ohio and West Virginia, inhabitated by the likes of Pollock's deranged-yet-compelling cast of characters--a husband and wife who take vacations to murder hitchhikers, a faux preacher and his crippled accomplice on the lam for manslaughter, and an orphan with a penchant for exacting violent justice. Needless to say, The Devil All the Time is a brutal novel, but Pollock exacts the kind of precision and control over his language that keeps the violence from ever feeling gratuitous. The three storylines eventually converge in a riveting moment that will leave readers floored and haunted. --Kevin Nguyen


The Devil All The Time is one of GQ's Books of the Year:

"Flannery O'Connor's brutal Wise Blood looks like Sense and Sensibility next to this finely woven, throat-stomping Appalachian crime story."

Praise for The Devil All the Time:

"Pollock's first novel, The Devil All the Time, should cement his reputation as a significant voice in American fiction. ...[He] deftly shifts from one perspective to another, without any clunky transitions—the prose just moves without signal or stumble, opening up the story in new ways again and again...where any prime-time television show can incite nail-biting with a lurking killer, Pollock has done much more. He's layered decades of history, shown the inner thoughts of a collage of characters, and we understand how deeply violence and misfortune have settled into the bones of this place. The question is much more than whether someone will die—it is, can the cycle of bloodletting break? This applies both to the people Pollock so skillfully enlivens as it does to the place he's taken as his literary heritage."—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

"The Devil All the Time...fulfills the promise in [Pollock's] 2008 short-story collection, Knockemstiff, named after his real-life hometown, where life as is tough as its name suggests. His fictional characters find ways to make it tougher. Devil, as violent as the bloodiest parts of the Old Testament...invites comparisons to Flannery O'Connor and Raymond Carver, who mined the grace and guilt in the hopeless lives of lost souls....But it's not so much what happens as how Pollock, with the brutal beauty of spare writing, brings it all together."—Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today

"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 debut novel, The Devil All the Time (Doubleday), move through the southern outlands of Ohio and the isolated hollows of West Virginia like figures in a collective nightmare of poverty, addiction, superstition, and crime. Sprung from their rough histories, they mostly prey on their own troubled, downtrodden kin and kind.
      Pollock—who spent three decades working at an Ohio paper mill before his 2008 story collection, Knockemstiff (the name of his real-life hometown), garnered widespread acclaim—doesn’t get a word wrong in this super-edgy American Gothic stunner. Here are World War II combat vet Willard Russell and his young son, Arvin, at an outdoor shrine the father has constructed in a fruitless attempt to keep his beautiful young wife from dying of cancer: 'They knelt down and Arvin glanced over at his father’s skinned knuckles…the sounds traveling up the hill from the holler were especially clear that night…the wild hoots and jeers of the drunks reminded the boy of the hunter lying bloody in the mud. His father had taught that man a lesson he would never forget. He closed his eyes and began to pray.'
      The flawless cadence of Pollock’s gorgeous shadow-and-light prose plays against the heinous acts of his sorrowful and sometimes just sorry characters, such as lawless preacher Roy and his wheelchair-bound, guitar-playing, pedophile sidekick, Theodore, who stay one scam ahead of the police; and Carl and Sandy, a husband and wife who pick up male hitchhikers and photograph them ­before dispatching them to a (no doubt) better world. 
      As Arvin grows up—The Devil All the Time’s narrative arcs from the end of World War II to the late 1960s—life’s twists and turns provide him with a measure of salvation from his own past, and from the people whose soul-damaged lives Pollock has set down so indelibly on the blood-red altar of his incendiary imagination."—Lisa Shea, ELLE magazine

"The Devil All the Time reads as if the love child of O'Connor and Faulkner was captured by Cormac McCarthy, kept in a cage out back and forced to consume nothing but onion rings, Oxycontin and Terrence Malick's Badlands.”—Jeff Baker, The Oregonian

For fans of No Country for Old Men and Natural Born Killers… [a] grisly Southern Gothic novel that's sure to give you goose bumps no matter how hot the weather gets.”—The Daily Details, DETAILS.com

“Donald Ray Pollock’s engaging and proudly violent first novel…suggests a new category of fiction—grindhouse literary. Subtle characterization: check. Well-crafted sentences: check. Enthusiastic amounts of murder and mayhem: check, check.”—Taylor Antrim, the Daily Beast

"So humid is The Devil All The Time with moral grime that the characters seem always to be grasping for a breath of divine intervention—some through prayer, others through murder and creepy sex."—GQ

Devil features a bleak and often nightmarish vision of the decades following World War II, a world where redemption, on the rare occasions when it does come to town, rides shotgun with soul-scarring consequences.”—Jason Albert, The Onion/A.V. Club

“Donald Ray Pollock has a flair for creating flawed characters you don't admire but can't help wanting to know more about…. His stories have the same quirky, Appalachian temperament found in the works of Ron Rash or Chuck Kinder, but Pollock defies comparisons.”—Rege Behe, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

The Devil All the Time is an expansive, decades-spanning slice of Americana … a systematic cataloguing of the horror and hypocrisy that festers in the dark shadow of the American dream.”—Allison Hallett, The Portland Mercury

"[The Devil All the Time is] a world unto its own, a world vividly and powerfully brought to life by a literary stylist who packs a punch as deadly as pulp-fiction master Jim Thompson and as evocative and morally rigorous as Russell Banks."—Tirdad Derakhshani, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Pollock has expanded on [his] storytelling gift for his debut novel, The Devil All the Time. A gallery of reprobates and religious fanatics flutter through these pages. These are multidimensional, flawed human beings. Some pray for better days. Others imagine a resurrection.... Inexorable fate draws these story strands into ever-tightening loops as Pollock’s characters circulate in Ohio, West Virginia and along desolate highways to the south and west....The Devil All the Time is a mesmerizing first novel. It could be cinematized into one heckuva motion picture."—Vick MicKunas, Dayton Daily News

"The world of The Devil All the Time may be geographically just a few dozen miles south of Columbus, but psychologically, it's deep in the heart of hell....The appalling acts these characters commit, and are subjected to, might be unbearable in other hands, but Pollock keeps a certain distance, not wallowing in the details and leaving most of the worst to the imagination. He doesn't extend forgiveness to the characters, but he makes even the most evil of them understandable. He also has the driest and darkest sense of humor. It both cuts through and sharpens much of the horror...Beneath the gothic horror is an Old Testament sense of a moral order in the universe, even if the restoration of that order itself requires violence. As Pollock pulls the strands of his plot together, they reveal patterns both surprising and inevitable."—Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch

This novel fulfills the promise made by Pollock’s debut collection, Knockemstiff.  He is a real writer, and The Devil All The Time hits you like a telegram from Hell slid under your door at three o’clock in the morning.”—William Gay, author of Provinces of Night and The Long Home

Praise for Knockemstiff

“Pollock brings grace and precision to colloquial language, and the ferocious integrity of his vision is flat-out stunning . . . I keep reaching for some other writer to compare him with—maybe a Raymond Carver with hope and vitality, or a godless Flannery O’Conner—but Pollock is no shadow of anybody else. This is a powerful talent at work.”
—Katherine Dunn, author of Geek Love

“This is as raw as American fiction gets. It is an unforgettable experience.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Pollock’s voice is fresh and full-throated . . . His steely, serrated prose . . . calls to mind Harry Crews.”
New York Times Book Review

“The next important voice in American fiction.”
Wall Street Journal

“More engaging than any new fiction in years.”
—Chuck Palahniuk

Knockemstiff is an astonishing debut, reminiscent of when Larry Brown burst on the scene with Facing the Music. Pollock’s refusal to sentimentalize his characters and their world gives his book a fierce integrity. He’s the real thing, a new and important voice in American fiction, and a welcome relief from the timidity and preening self-absorption of so much contemporary fiction.”
—Ron Rash, author of Serena

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (July 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038553504X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385535045
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (293 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #239,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Pamela A. Poddany VINE VOICE on June 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )

Fasten your seat belt, stop the world, you will want to get off and read this book in one sitting, then you'll be sorry when you are finished. Donald Ray Pollock's writing slams into your mind and soul and will not let you go. Ever.

This book is intense, frightening, wonderful, poignant, alarming, and magnificent. The characters you will meet -- and I wouldn't want to meet many of them in a dark alley -- are bizarre, menacing, church-going, God-fearing, alarming, and sometimes loving folk. The people in this book are so fleshed-out and real and the types of human beings you pray you will never actually have the pleasure of meeting.

The setting is in West Virginia and Ohio, the backroads of rural America. Folks are poor and down-trodden, homes are ramshackle and filthy. We meet Willard Russell who has served his time in the South Pacific and can't get over the brutality of war. The war leaves him wounded in his mind but he hopes to put all of that behind him when he meets and falls in love with the beautiful Charlotte. Willard and Charlotte have a son, Arvin Eugene. We also meet Carl and Sandy Henderson, married psychopaths who have a terrifying and disturbing hobby. Two other stand-out characters are a preacher, Roy, and his wheelchair bound partner, Theodore; both are on the lam.

All of these lives become jumbled and tangled together, making for one heck of a story. The plot is fast paced and I couldn't turn the pages quickly enough. Pollock's descriptions of the characters were so vivid and dynamic you can almost see their greased back hair, smell their cheap perfume, and taste the whiskey and/or coffee they are chugging down.
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There are some quite slimy characters that seem completely unrealistic until you think about the real stories of evangelsits, Appalachian living conditions, and serial killers during the 1940s through the '60s. The author does an excellent job of using this time period as one of the story's background features instead of a history lesson.

There are times I was reading the book that I couldn't believe that a particularly horrific aspect to a crime warranted only a breif sentence - often the last sentence of a chapter. My mouth would drop open, I'd say, "Ewwww, that's sick," out loud, and then quickly turn the page to start the next chapter.

I was very pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed this book as much as I did. I started it yesterday morning after finishing a very long, tedious read (1,100+ pages) and just finished this afternoon. I did not expect to find this story as absorbing as I did. There was no point in the book where I could comfortably take a break, so I read through meals, laundry, and while I should have been sleeping. I was always too anxious to see what was going to happen next to put it down. Nothing in this book is predictable.

If you like this book, I also suggest "Sweetheart" by Chelsea Cain.
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When Terry Gross interviewed Donald Ray Pollock on "Fresh Air" (NPR), the author, in his down-home voice, said that he often would type out published stories he liked for the purpose of studying how the author wrote them. I don't recall his mentioning Flannery O'Connor. But almost from the moment I started reading this novel, the voice of Ms. O'Connor was like an overlay of Mr. Pollock's. That is meant as a compliment. Let me cite a passage from the novel--and if you have ever read the haunting "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by O'Connor, you must see what I mean:
The couple had been roaming the Midwest for several weeks during the summer of 1965, always on the hunt, two nobodies in a black Ford station wagon purchased for one hundred dollars... The man on the passenger's side was turning to fat and believed in signs and had a habit of picking his decayed teeth with a Buck pocketknife. The woman always drove and wore tight shorts and flimsy blouses that showed off her pale, bony body in a way they both thought enticing. She chain-smoked any kind of menthol cigarettes...while he chewed on cheap black cigars that he called dog dicks...
These are not people you want moving into your neighborhood although that wouldn't be a problem since they have an interest in hitchhikers. Why? Well... I'm not telling although I will go back to O'Connor and remind you that the grandmother was just a little too trusting. Stupid and too trusting, just like the characters in this wonderful novel.
These are not cartoon-ish characters although some might think so when first meeting them. They live in an existential world--our world--where many of them are totally clueless about the horrors occurring around them but go to prayer believing that prayer will bring them better lives.
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Donald Ray Pollock's new novel The Devil All The Time is so remarkable and engrossing that I would like to share it with all of my reader friends. However, the characters and subject matter are often so nasty, I hesitate to share this book because of what it might make them think of me. As in, what kind of person could enjoy a book like this? For example, this book has two different cringe-inducing preachers, one who uses various bugs (spiders and otherwise) as part of his sermonizing - eating some, getting stung by others - and the other who has a taste for pubescent girls. But I digress.

The Devil All The Time is set in the years after WWII, up to the '60s, and features a cast of mostly rural, down on-their-luck losers and drifters. Each of them seems doomed in one way or another, some by circumstances, others by their own nature and/or decisions. Among the most striking characters are Carl and Sandy, a husband-wife team of serial killers. The wife is a somewhat unwilling participant in the killings, but she is definitely complicit. As for Carl, he is one of the more twisted killers seen in modern fiction. The details of his methods of killing are left somewhat vague -- a rare case of author Pollock sparing us the gruesome specifics -- but what we get is unsettling enough.

So what makes this novel so good? For me, it was partly that feeling of horrid fascination; you don't want to look, but yet you can't turn away. The things that happen to these people are undeniably absorbing while often revolting or shocking at the same time. Then there was Pollock's gift for describing places. With relatively spare prose, he really made some of the places he talks about seem real.
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