Thursday, September 29, 2016

Review: "The Heavenly Table" by Donald Ray Pollock

Of all the books I have read this year, Donald Ray Pollock’s new novel, The Heavenly Table, is the only one I can say is a bonafide masterpiece. From its intense narrative, seamless style and off the wall tone, I can’t seem to find any chinks in its armor. This is such a massive improvement from his other two books, both fantastic in their own right. Knockemstiff, his debut collection of short stories (complete with a glowing recommendation by Chuck Palahniuk) was an interesting introduction to Pollock’s savage world just south of where I live. They were soulful and gritty with a flair for deconstructing the interior lives of its downtrodden characters. Pollock stepped it up a notch with his first novel, The Devil All the Time, a brutal gothic tale of murderers and savages trying to find salvation in the world. But this book is something much different. It is more sophisticated, having much more in common with the work of Daniel Woodrell and Flannery O’Conner than some of Pollock’s contemporaries. It is filled to the brim with rich sentences, cloaked with the conflicting feelings of hope and terror from a bygone era. What I took away from this novel, and I’m sure many people will as well, is that besides such an interesting and at times intricate plot line, Pollock is so skilled at getting into the heads of almost every character that is introduced, and it just makes the story that much more rich, and that much more grand. There are a few more plotlines than the two on the book’s front flap, but I will start with those. We are first introduced to the Jewett brothers in the year 1917. There is Cane, the oldest and smartest, since he knows how to read, there is his younger brother Cob, fat and rather slow, and there is the youngest Jewett boy, Chimney, who seems prone to violence and flights of fantasy based around the dime store novel Cane would read to them. After their put upon father dies suddenly, all three tired of the sad lives they are living, brutally murder their employer, himself a rather violent man, and set off toward Canada, robbing banks and building up infamy in the eyes of the public. A few hundred miles away from them is Ellsworth Fiddler, recently swindled out of his life savings, is eking out a living on a farm with his equally tired wife and delinquent son. Their paths cross, but not before Pollock builds an astoundingly well rendered world filled with barkeeps that are serial murders, sanitation inspectors with an abnormally sized penis that has rendered him impotent, closeted Army lieutenants with a death wish and various others whose personal dreams, sins and actions we get an archeological eyeful of thanks to Pollock’s immense talents. I want to leave some surprises for you, since this is among the year’s best, if not the best; with an ending that is a beautiful contrast to this book’s somewhat brutal view of the early 20th century. Check it out as soon as you can. 

Rating: 5/5

No comments:

Post a Comment