[TRIGGER WARNING: Violence, sexual violence, animal abuse]
I have written and rewritten a summary of the plot of this book, and I end up in one of two camps: either I have written nothing substantial that would be worth keeping or I have written 4-5 paragraphs to explain everything. Author Donald Ray Pollock has created stories that weave and connect back on each in such incredible ways that it is difficult to summarize. I’ve decided on the insubstantial camp. The book tells the story of World War 2 vet and his son, of a depraved couple who travel through the Midwest and South, and of two traveling preachers. Mostly. That’s the best I can do.
This book is bleak. Not a single character is happy or content. Every one of the main cast of characters engages in behavior that is horrifying in some way. Whether it’s a man killing a neighborhood dog and crucifying it, another man grooming young girls into having sex with him, a woman being coerced into sex with so many men that the medicine for all her STIs is affecting her fertility, or a young man violently beating classmates with tire irons and glass bottles.
The best part of the book was the ending. Pollock does a phenomenal job of ramping up the pace of book at the end. As the characters were all circling the drain around and around each other, Pollock started and ended chapters with dizzying speed. I felt as though I was spinning out of control along with the characters.
I don’t think I could ever reread this book. I’m not sure that I want to. It was well written and the characters well-defined, but I felt so hollow after finishing. I’m sure that was the intention of Pollock, so mission accomplished.