SECOND OPINION: The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock

Review published on December 19, 2016.

This is a raw but very funny multi-stranded Western. The central plot focuses on the hapless Jewett brothers, who after their father’s death and in homage to a pulp novel they adore become bank robbers and set off from Georgia for the Canadian border. Never mind that they’re just “three dipshit farm boys in dirty white shirts riding horses.” Once in Ohio, their paths cross with the other characters and subplots – an Army training camp where many young men who couldn’t even locate Germany on a map are preparing to head there; a swindled farmer who thinks his son has joined up; a sadistic barkeep; a black man trying to kick his drinking habit; a sanitation inspector; a passel of whores and other ne’er do wells; and so on – to explosive effect.

All of these characters (and I did sometimes wonder if there were too many of them) are longing for what they can’t have; they all have a vision of perfection, like the “heavenly table” the Jewett boys’ father aimed for, but reality falls cruelly yet comically short. At times I thought this got more bitter and gruesome than it needed to, especially with Pollard and Sugar. The sex talk is also undeniably filthy. But overall I found it to be a rollicking treat of a morality tale where there are no entirely good guys.

Rebecca Foster 4/3

The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock
Harvill Secker 9781910701621 pbk Jul 2016

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