January 4, 2013 7:35 pm

Calculated violence

James Urquhart reviews ‘The Devil All the Time’, by Donald Ray Pollock

The Devil All the Time, by Donald Ray Pollock, Vintage, RRP£7.99, 261 pages

 

It’s 1958, and in Knockemstiff, Ohio, 10-year-old Arvin Eugene Russell watches Willard, his half-crazed and suicidal father, offer up road kill on a makeshift altar in the woods in a desperate bid for a miracle to cure his wife Charlotte’s cancer. Willard’s thorough pulverisation of a man who questioned Charlotte’s good character was the “best day” of Arvin’s childhood; and this spare, calculated violence and the powerful memory of bloodletting follow Arvin into a difficult adolescence.

Pollock’s compelling novel combines pared-down dialogue and muscular prose to sustain a menacing atmosphere and a sense of foreboding. Arvin’s path later collides with low-life characters including a paedophile preacher, a bent sheriff and a murderous couple preying on hitchhikers. This compact debut novel offers visceral characterisation and sharp plot lines that keep the pages turning.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.