Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Review of The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollack (Harvill Secker, 2011)
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.