There are a number of books that I have read over the years that take all my hopes and dreams to be a great writer and curb stomp them into oblivion because of their incredible genius and lyrical artistry. SHE RIDES SHOTGUN ,DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, and DEVIL ALL THE TIME.
Devil All the Time is the debut novel from Ohio writer Donald Ray Pollock. Despite his writing making me feel like a bear trying to ride a tricycle he is also quite an inspiration. He was a mill worker and laborer until he entered a writing program at the age of 50. He might have started late but he came on the scene like a Howitzer.
Set in post-war Ohio and West Virginia DEVIL ALL THE TIME tells it's tale in a non-linear style that shifts forward and backwards in time. It changes setting and location often and tells the story through the mouths of dozens of characters. Characters that are vulgar, ugly , beautiful, disturbed, tragic, poor and at their core, lost.
Reading DEVIL ALL THE TIME is a like a religious experience. That's fitting because religion plays such a large role in the story. Immersing yourself in it's pages feels like some epiphany. It's like Donald Ray Pollock is Jonathon Edwards with a .45. Sinners in the hands of a crazy god who eats bugs. The fact that Pollock is able to tell this gruesome grand guignol story in such an exquisite beautiful way is demoralizing. His prose is diaphanous like a butterfly's wings if each wing was dipped in blood.
I read DATT in two day. I felt like I was trapped in a fever dream. Every few pages I'd mutter
"I can't believe this."
"What the fuck."
"This is a work of art."
I'd like to apologize to the people in Starbucks who had to hear that.
Pollock's genius is that he never makes any moral judgments about his characters. He gives you a highly stylized incident report and leave it to you to make up your mind. Even his most abhorrent characters have enough pathos to make you feel sorry for what they have become even if you don't feel sorry for who they are.
It's the kind of book that you throw across the room when you're done because you know you will never ever write anything that approaches the uncommon excellence of such a book. Then if you are a stubborn person you dust yourself, you count yourself lucky that you got to experience a novel like this and then you put your butt in the chair. You use a novel like DEVIL ALL THE TIME as a bench mark . And you do your best to reach that level. Aim for the stars you might hit the moon.