This is a beautifully-written, captivating book about a number of mostly poverty-stricken rural characters, some of whom are down on their luck and others of whom are simply bad to the bone.
Set in rural Ohio and West Virginia, the story takes place over a period from the end of World War II until the middle of the 1960s. It weaves together the strands of several different stories, and the characters include a husband and wife team of serial killers who hunt their male "models" along the nation's highways. There are a couple of seriously screwed-up preachers, a totally bent sheriff, a war veteran who spends hours at his "prayer log" sacrificing and pleading with God to save his wife who is dying of cancer, and their son, Arvin, who pulls the various parts of the story together. The supporting cast includes a number of minor, but equally well-drawn characters, all of whom are unforgettable.
Also unforgettable is the setting. Pollock paints a vivid portrait of these small towns and isolated farms where hope and opportunity are totally foreign concepts. To say that these people lead often desperate, hard scrabble lives would be an understatement. Although the book is set in the middle of the Twentieth Century, in some respects many of these people are still living as though it were the beginning of the century.
There is a lot of brutal action in this book, but the story is so well-told that Pollock draws you in from virtually the first line. And even though it's very hard to sympathize with a lot of the characters, you turn the last page with a deep sense of regret that the book has ended. Donald Ray Pollock is also the author of the acclaimed Knockemstiff and he is definitely a writer to look for.