Donald Ray Pollock’s The Heavenly Table

Donald Ray Pollock
July 12, 2016
Doubleday Books

OK, we’re gonna try something new here. I am going to review the book as I read it.

Last night I read 100 pages and I’m not bullshitting when I say I had 2 of the worst nightmares I’ve had in years.

I am conflicted. I went back and re-read my review of Pollock’s 2011 novel THE DEVIL DevilAllTheTimeALL THE TIME. I loved the book. I really mean that. I thought it was original and atmospheric and left me feeling unclean and slimy. One line in that previous review was about how the book made me feel like I was being molested as I read it……

Now how can you not love a book that causes such reactions? They are rare and few and most are so underground they escape notice.This kind of shit deserves awards. I have spent years hammering away at my psyche, trying to find the literary stimulants that make me feel like I was just hit in the head with a crowbar….or in that case, molested by a toothless carny and hit in the head with a crowbar.

Here we are, 5 years later with Pollock’s new release, THE HEAVENLY TABLE.

Shit……This is not a world where the protagonists and antagonists are easily defined. In the The Heavenly Table, more often then not, they are one and the same.

It’s set in 1917 as America is about to enter the First World War. The Locales range from Georgia/Alabama border to Southern Ohio.

Down south you have the destitute Jewett Brothers, Cane (oldest and smartest), Cob (the middle and the moron), and finally Chimney (the youngest, has a temper). Father Pearl has dropped dead and inspired by a pulp novel with it’s own lurid history, the Jewett boys get after the American dream with an old sawed off shotgun and some machetes.

I just put my face in my hands and shook my head. So much comes at you page by page, and in your mind’s eye you see things….you see all the things….and you cannot un-see them.

Pollock, Goddamn your powers of description and detail.You are fucking magnificent.

Up in Southern Ohio, farmer Ellsworth Fiddler has just been conned out of his life savings. His wife has broken internally, and his son may or may not have enlisted to hang out in the trenches of France.

I am now 123 pages in. Out of 384.

I just read something that made me laugh out loud.

Right now, I find myself constantly wondering about the world in this book. It’s so out there that people like this have to exist or existed at one point in time.

Now moving on, the slingshot of a plot has been pulled back to it’s breaking point and finally released.

The cast of characters is wide ranging and grotesque is not a strong enough adjective to describe the people creeping off these pages. I am trying to keep up. I see a collision in the distance. Overall the narrative is so might tighter than DEVIL ALL THE TIME. The pacing is relentless.

Page 157 and I just took a straight jab to the face followed by left hook to the jaw.

pollockLargeI am now truly afraid of Donald Ray Pollock. He is the literary boogeyman.

Somewhere around the pages in the low 200’s I have decided this is the book Sam Peckinpah and Cormac McCarthy collaborated on during a week long meth binge in a whorehouse.

That is a compliment by the way.

I am loving this book and questioning my sanity at the same time. It’s making me feel like I’m a war correspondent observing some strange conflict on a distant planet.

I just hit page 280 and had a revelation. For years I’ve been hearing and reading all over the place that Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian has been the high water mark for Southern Gothic/Western/Violent literature. THE HEAVENLY TABLE by Donald Ray Pollock leaves BLOOD MERIDIAN in the rear view mirror. It’s that good. BLOOD MERIDIAN is B-movie pulp fiction compared to this. I’m quite sure many of you will disagree and get on some literary high horse and say I’m crazy. I don’t care.

I just finished………….

BEST BOOK OF 2016shower-head_fe

I need a shower.


Dave Wahlman