Review: The Heavenly Table


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.

Review: The Devil All the Time


Review for “The Devil All the Time” by Donald Ray Pollock (2011)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Even though this is only my second time reading Donald Ray Pollock, he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. He continues to create such interesting casts of characters, and this one’s is no exception. This book is very much in the same vein as his first volume of short stories, Knockemstiff–poor, rural people in desperate situations. This book’s got a little bit of everything: a man who sacrifices animals and other roadkill to rid his wife of cancer, along with his morally conflicted son, who’s willing to sacrifice everything for a sense of peace. There’s a spider-eating preacher and his guitar-playing sidekick who are convinced they can raise people from the dead, and a murderous husband and wife duo that pick up male hitchhikers, torture and photograph them, and kill them.

The beginning of this novel starts off strong, but I had to admit that by the middle of the book I was a little hesitant to continue because wasn’t sure where this book was going. The characters don’t appear connected, other than their desolate settings. I am glad I was patient, because everything came together so spectacularly by the end that I couldn’t believe I was looking at the last page. The way the plot twists and tangles together is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, with characters on separate paths who manage to meet together dynamically by the book’s end.

I’m anxious to read more of Donald Ray Pollock’s writing. Four and a half stars, no complaints at all.