Books | April 2017
Known for the dark and gripping work in his novel The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock has been called a writer of the “hillbilly gothic.” Sometimes likened to the legendary works of Cormac McCarthy and Flannery O’Connor, Pollock’s writing is riddled with dynamic characters placed in complicated circumstances. Pollock came to the craft of writing professionally somewhat late in life, enrolling in the English program at Ohio State University after leaving his previous line of work as a laborer and truck driver at the age of 50. His writing possesses a sort of seasoned quality unlike that of anyone else and a quality of prose which has put his name in the company of other literary masters. He is known and loved by his readers for his focus on Southern Ohio in his works.
Described by critics as gritty and electrifying, the author’s new novel, The Heavenly Table, falls in line with his previous work in terms of his characteristic writing style and boundary pushing themes. Set in 1917 at the border of Alabama and Georgia, this book unwinds the tale of a farmer named Pearl Jewett and his three sons as they attempt to make ends meet in desolateconditions. Hundreds of miles away, another farmer in Southern Ohio lives with his wife and son in somewhat different circumstances. After losing everything, this man soon finds himself crossing paths with Pearl and his three boys. Though some have called the plot itself somewhat predictable, it’s the sort of timeless tale that still manages to achieve its purpose in questioning the limits of human nature.
This book finds itself somewhere at the intersection of laughter and tears and has been frequently noted as a read that is somehow horrific and oddly funny in the same instant. This strange juxtaposition of emotions has become a sort of intangible hallmark of Pollock’s writing over the years. While it is a rollicking adventure and a collision of worlds and personalities, the book is clearly not for the faint of heart as it contains a good deal of violence as the tale unwinds itself. The horror and violence invoked on the book’s pages, however, do serve an important purpose. This book, like Pollock’s other works, has many similarities to that of Faulkner in its dark and gothic style.
The book’s early 1900s setting places it against an interesting backdrop of the First World War and the advent of new technologies leading up to modern-day life as we now know it. At once tragic, graceful, and humorous, The Heavenly Table can truly be placed in a genre all its own. Pollock is an award winning author for various works including Knockemstiff which is a collection of stories written earlier in his career. The Heavenly Table is considered to be his strongest work to date and is sure to stay with readers far into the future.
Outlaws & Existentialism
Donald Ray Pollock’s newest novel, The Heavenly Table, release brings the “hillbilly gothic” to life
Review by Shana Raley-Lusk