Review for “The Heavenly Table” by Donald Ray Pollock (2016)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
At this point in my reading life, I’ll read anything that Donald Ray Pollock writes. The tone of his writing is darkly refreshing, and his characters are always fascinatingly dysfunctional with just the right amount of humor so that you don’t take them too seriously. He’s a master of transgressive fiction, with the power to create people that manage to draw you in and repulse you at the same time.
“The Heavenly Table” is also one such novel. It is set in 1917, and features a farmer named Pearl and his three sons–Cane, Cob, and Chimney. Very early in the novel (and this is not a spoiler), Pearl dies and his three sons decide to strike out on their own dangerous path across the countryside. Meanwhile, the Fiddler family begins their own search for their wayward son, Eddie, who has run away from home. Both sets of characters eventually meet in a way that’s somewhat predictable, with dozens of other characters introduced in between. Typical of Pollock’s style, there are a plethora of other stories explored here: a homicidal barkeeper, a pimp who runs his business out of a barn, a Black male drifter by the name of Sugar, a outhouse inspector, a nefarious Army lieutenant, and so on.
As much as I wanted to like this, this book is not as good as his first novel, The Devil All the Time, and definitely not as good as his collection of short stories, Knockemstiff. For me, there are far too many characters that the plot became way too scattered and was worn so thin by the middle of the book that I found myself skimming pages until the end. Not the way I like to read, so this was a 3 for me. If you’re new to Donald Ray Pollock’s writing I would start with his other books first, they’re way more entertaining.