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on 1 August 2011
Expectations are always high when a great (and Donald Ray Pollocks short stories are exceptional) short story writer releases a novel. No need to worry here then as The Devil all The Time is an exceptionally good first novel. Brilliant, even.

Quite a hard book to summarize easily as it has multiple threads and characters that weave in and out of each other that then finally collide in blood and guts at the end. Literally the equivalent of a murder spree in prose it has little mercy for the squemish or faint of heart.

If you've read Knockemstiff then you will know the types of characters Mr Pollock writes about - outsiders, losers and the downright murderous. It's the quality of the writing that gets to you - hard edged and honest, tragedy shot through with humour, great dialogue. Writing in a voice that reminded me of some of my all-time favourite writers (Tim Gautreaux, Ron Rash, Larry Brown through Harry Crews and back to Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner although Mr Pollock has his own distinct style ) I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
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on 25 June 2017
Gripping and gritty. Not for the faint hearted as it contains some quite graphic scenes. Can be read alongside `Knockenstiff' which features similar characters and settings
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on 12 December 2011
The Devil All The Time is among the most profound books I've ever read.
It has a place among the American classics in terms of the scope of the book and the quality of the voice. There are echoes of great writers of the past, something that is magnified to some extent by setting the story in the decades following the Second World War.
Having read and admired his short story collection `Knockemstiff', I'd been itching to see this on the UK shelves.
It's been a long time coming; the reasons for that are clear to see. The prose is lean and crafted so well that I imagine every single sentence has been given attention in the editing process. The characters, even those whose appearances are brief, are terrifically drawn and capture all five of the senses. The surroundings are vivid without being overstated. The plot begins like loose fibres which are twisted and bound together to form a rope of the highest quality.
The story strips the human race to the bone. Exposes it for what it is - animals with the capacity to think and use language. We meet obsessions relating to basic drive and self-preservation - sex, mortality, religion and murder.
It reveals what happens behind closed doors, the private moments that so many are keen to keep hidden.
One of the key images in the book is that of Miller Jones. He's not seen for long. Alvin Russell, who found him while serving in the South Pacific, stumbled into him on a patrol. Jones had been skinned alive and fixed to a cross, was covered in flies and his heart was still beating visibly inside his chest. Alvin Russell does the best he can. Shoots Jones in the skull. Hangs around for a while and exacts revenge on those who did the skinning.
It's kind of Old Testament. Hints at one of the book's themes, the interpretation of religion to satisfy personal ends, yet also of the hope that lives within us all. That beating heart is like the flickering of a candle flame. Demonstrates just what we'll try and survive in order to keep going.
There is darkness within the pages, no doubt about it. Hardly a stone of depravity is left unturned. All the same, the scenes are handled perfectly. None of the situations or actions are shied away from, though none of them are revelled in either. It might have been an easy way out to tangle us up in description and detail, yet he draws enough of a sketch for us to see the picture and leaves the colouring in to our own imaginations. These scenes are not graphic or cold, but they hold all the more power for that.
I've seen Mr Pollock compared to practically all of the [male] giants of American literature of the Twentieth Century. I can't add to the list without stepping out of my depth, though I'd be tempted to throw in some European influences also if I were to do so. He clearly belongs to a very special group of authors indeed - those who can tell a story that isn't going to be forgotten any time soon, those whose books will survive more than one generation and those with the ability to reach right into a reader's mind and scratch words onto the inside of the skull lest they might try and forget - and the sooner he's hailed as such in literary circles, the better.
True brilliance.
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on 13 November 2016
Overdone s***e
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on 4 September 2012
The Devil All the Time is noir to its core, relentless dark and bleak with hardly a thin crack of light of hope and redemption on the horizon. The book has many positives. It is beautifully written in well crafted and evocative prose, delivered in an even, rhythmic cadence. The story is well rooted in time and place, capturing the rural mid-West in the post-war period, and the murky social relations, petty crime and more that shaped communities and the bonds between family members. The characters are well realised, their weaknesses, vices, foibles and back story nicely penned. The whole book had the feel of craft to it, both the story and the physical artefact - the book is beautifully produced. And yet, for all this, I wasn't fully captured by and immersed in the story. And I should have been: The Devil All the Time is carefully sculpted, literary, crime fiction. Don't get me wrong, this was a very good and engaging read, but it could have been stellar. On reflection, I think the issue was that for most of the book the narrative seemed liked a set of well written, interlinked vignettes stretched out over a fifteen year span, so the arc of the story felt like loose connections rather than being tight, taut web. Pollack does pull all of the threads together, but there's no change in tempo as it nears the end; more a quiet, understated but violent resolution and an opening for the tale to continue. Overall, a polished and evocative slice of country noir that portrays starkly the dark underbelly of rural America.
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on 28 May 2017
One of the best books i have ever read. The realism is unparallel to anything i have ever read. I have read all of Pollock books and happily recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading.
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on 15 July 2014
What can I say that hasn't already been said. The subject matter is dark and bleak at times, yet Pollock's writing keeps the reader engaged at all times. It's a book that grabs you by the throat and never let's you go peacefully on your way. The characterisation is first class, and the various plots and sub-plots intertwine nicely and arrive at a point where the reader is pining for a positive ending to the evil that permeates throughout the book.

It's quite simply one of the best books I've ever read. It's a book that examines the darkness of the human heart, but pollock provides enough hope and morality for us not to get too despondent with humanity after turning the final page.
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on 2 June 2014
This book is one of the best, I have read since reading Cormac McCarthys "no country for old men" many years ago. Rough, edgy, gritty, real in the sence of staying true to the sins and the depravety of man, yet the gritty and at times unbearable sadness of the ways of the west is caught like a moth within a larger sky, that the reader and the maincharacters are longing to reach - this is a pilgrims tale and "long and hard is the road, that out of hell leads into light" (John Milton). Top-dollar writing in the understated american style, that is so rear, but lingers in the old and true grit of the christian west.
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on 7 March 2016
..."Unless he had whiskey running through his veins, Willard came to the clearing every morning and evening to talk to God. 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.”...

The Devil All The Time is unbelievably, the debut novel from Donald Ray Pollock. I couldn't fault it in any area. This gritty, perverse tale of interlinked short stories flows seamlessly from one narrative into another, then back again. Written in the 3rd person narrative it is a deliriously twisted intensely gratuitously violent tale with deeply religious and Gothic under­tones.

It is an insightful character driven story about several complex tragic, manipulative and predatory personalities who live in and around rural southern Ohio and West Virginia during the late 1950's and 1960's.

One of the narrative perspectives is of Willard Russell, a traumatised WWII veteran returning from the bloody battle front at the end of the war. On his journey home he sees a beautiful waitress at The Wooden Spoon Restaurant. He is instantly smitten, pursues and ultimately asks her to marry him. It is during Charlotte's agonising terminal illness that he becomes increasingly unbalanced and resorts to disturbing prayer rituals and sacrifices in order to bring her back to her former health.

Caught in the middle of all this is Arvin, Willard and Charlotte's son who is forced to participate in the rituals. Despite an increasing intensity of praying and sacrificial offerings Charlotte dies and after further tragic events the traumatized Arvin is sent to live with his grandmother.

The imagery is strong and highly emotive with descriptions of Willard's traumatic experiences during the war witnessing at one juncture a crucified soldier, and later of the sacrificing of a dog. Pollock teases us with plots and sub plots. Gives faint glimmers of people about to do right and then dashes your hopes when they do not follow through with their good intentions.

Nothing good ever seems to happen to anyone and I was constantly waiting to find out about the next piece of bad luck or misfortune to befall the next victim. Its like road crash tv, you want to, OK...feel as if you should, turn away but are just too compelled to witness what these sad, miserable and often violent individuals will do next.

Amongst the multitude of compelling characters are:

Carl and Sandy Henderson, husband and wife who like to pick-up hitchhikers during their road trip vacations. Torture and then kill their prey whilst taking photographs for keepsakes;
The town's corrupt sheriff Lee Bodecker;
& travelling theatrical preachers Roy, and his crippled sidekick guitarist Theodore;

I don't want to detail too many of the townsfolk as I don't want to spoil the thrill of finding out about them as their woeful tales unravel. However all the narratives are entwined and story lines converge in the novel's grand finale, which at long last may give a tiny glimmer of hope, for one individual at least.

The Devil All The Time is an uncomfortable tale about the darkness of human nature and the lengths people are prepared, willingly or reluctantly to go to when there is poverty, lack of education, loss of faith and little hope of ever escaping from such a miserable existence.

The Devil All The Time will not sit comfortably with everyone especially if you do not like violence, or a serious amount of swearing but if you enjoy extremely well written, clever plot lines about skank hillbilly townsfolk, serial killers, and a plethora of other perverted undesirables, I highly recommend it for those who can stomach it.

Favourite quote: "Some people were born just so they could be buried",
Lee Bodecker, Sheriff

Character most liked: A difficult one. I guess Arvin as he had an unimaginably miserable childhood and I desperately wanted his life to turn out better for him.

Character most disliked: Too many to choose from but I'll say it has to be Carl Henderson a psychotic, manipulative personality. Such an unsavoury slob of a character. Pollock's superb depiction of grotesque behaviour and mannerism of this character evoked such vivid imagery and that the smell of his bad breath and foul unwashed body odour almost had me gagging as it seeped from the pages.

'Knockemstiff' Pollock's collection of short stories published before The Devil All The Time is, in my opinion even more stomach churning. At least some redeeming features can be gleaned from the resident folk in The Devil All The Time.

Looking forward to reading Pollock's second novel, 'The Heavenly Table' published by Harvill Secker (14th July 2016).
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on 12 July 2012
Following his debut collection Knockemstiff (a knockout), TDATT is a slice of American noir that marries Jim Thompson to William Faulkner. Pollack is a stunning writer, and if he follows up this novel with more of this standard, he will enter my top echelon of noir writers. This includes Hammett, Thompson, Leonard, Goodis,Cain, Stark and very few others - he is that good.

TDATT is a finely constructed work of redemption. It features some of the lowest lowlife characters ever written about, practicing their twisted, often religious, perversions in a merry dance of sex and death. We meet the hero, Arvin, as a 10 year boy. What he goes through in the opening chapters sets the tone and the theme of this fascinating story, and is both memorable and unspeakable. Pollack has that Thompson taste for the bizarre but without all his black humour. Instead, he has a streak of the devil in him, so thoroughly does he skewer Southern religious zealotry. Though it seems to go off on tangents, the whole is strung together with amazing skill. You will care about what happens to Arvin and no-one else.

Even better than the superb Sisters Brothers, my previous best novel of recent (noir) reading, I could not recommend it more highly. Everybody in this book has 'the killer inside me.'
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