Donald Ray Pollock & The Devil All The Time at Subterranean Books

I have a soft spot for Donald Ray Pollock. As a new (completely unknown) publisher, I asked Fred Venturini, our debut author, to make a list of his dream team of early readers to see who we could approach for writing a blurb for the back cover. He came up with seven names and I set about to find contact information for each of the authors. I wrote and rewrote (multiple times) an e-mail just to initiate contact, give a bit of background about BSP and about Fred and ask whether or not the author would be willing to accept an ARC from us and, if he liked it, consider blurbing it.

Then, nervously, I hit send.

Right away, I got a note back from Don saying that Fred’s book sounded right up his alley and that he’d be happy to give it a read. (I eventually was contacted by four of the seven authors, two blurbed the book, one said it was a little too far outside his traditional genre, and one was a little late on replying but has been a big supporter of BSP and Fred ever since publication.) The others I never heard from. After the ARCS were ready, I sent the book out to the readers and in no time at all Don had read it, written a fantastic blurb, and had given BSP and Fred an adrenaline rush from which we haven’t quite recovered. (And talk about adrenaline, have you seen our new trailer for The Samaritan? Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7V7sIYki_Eo&feature=related.)

So…when I heard that Don’s new book was coming out and that he would be reading at Subterranean Books in St. Louis, I knew I had to be there. And I was not disappointed. (By the way, the folks at Sub Books are awesome.)

Don is friendly and gracious (even when a fan girl–a.k.a., me–barges through the door and starts blathering on and on about how much we loved his book and how excited we were to meet him and thank him in person for giving BSP and Fred a chance, yada yada yada…) in a quiet, unassuming way. His soft, southern drawl is pitch perfect for reading the tight, spare and yet rich, descriptive sentences that characterize his writing. Sentences like these that set the stage for book:

Willard eased himself down on the high side of the log and motioned for his son to kneel beside him in the dead, soggy leaves. Unless he had whiskey running through his veins, Willard came to the clearing every morning and evening to talk to God. Arvin didn’t know which was worse, the drinking or the praying. As far back as he could remember, it seemed that his father had fought the Devil all the time.

Don read several passages, each one shedding a little light on one of the narrative threads woven through the book. The Devil All The Time is populated by characters who are sad and pathetic, misguided and deluded, or even downright evil, but he somehow imbues them with flashes of humanity that makes the reader care about even the worst of them.

As an admiring reader (and as a fan of the guy as a plain ol’ person), I think part of his ability to make the reader care about these hard-luck cases is the down-to-earth sense of humility that comes through in his writing. He’s not judging his characters; he’s simply telling their stories. He never lets his authorial voice intrude, never tells the reader, “Hey, watch out for this guy, he’s a son of a bitch.” Instead, we see each flawed character struggle with love and hate, fear and longing, and we come to understand something about their motivations, how they came to be so fuc*ed up. We get to know these people on their own terms. And once you know someone, it’s not so easy to dismiss them.

Don’s work isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. Pick up a copy of The Devil All The Time and see for yourself.  As Willard says, “They’s a lot of no-good sonofabitches out there,” and all we can do is hope that Donald Ray Pollock keeps writing their stories.

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2 Comments on “Donald Ray Pollock & The Devil All The Time at Subterranean Books”

  1. Richard Thomas Says:

    Fantastic. If I could have been there I would have. I’m from STL, but live in Chicago. I first saw DRP in STL when he opened up for Palahniuk on his RANT tour. Such a nice guy, has always been supportive of my work, blurbed some stuff for me, and is one of my favorite authors. Loved KNOCKEMSTIFF, and I’m reading TDATT right now. You have good taste, and are aligning yourself with great people. I’m going to try to make it to Indy to see DRP read with Frank Bill. Maybe I’ll see you all there?


  2. I’d love to be there. I know Fred’s planning to attend. Whether I get to Frank’s event or not, hopefully we’ll eventually meet-up in The Lou. – Kristy


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