The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock

DevilDespite only having two published books, Donald Ray Pollock is one of my favorite authors. For over a year (about two seconds after I heard he was publishing one), I’ve been looking forward to the release of his new novel, The Heavenly Table (with thanks to Doubleday Books for my copy). I was not disappointed, though I can’t quite say that his sophomore novel is better than his debut (The Devil All the Time is in a league of its own). Following the Jewett brothers – Cane, Cob, and Chimney – The Heavenly Table takes place in 1917 southern Ohio. Living in poverty and on the verge of starvation, the sudden death of their father releases the Jewett brothers from their misery and sets them on a course they’d only ever imagined. They become outlaws in the tradition of (the fictional) Bloody Bill Bucket. Before they know it, they are a legendary gang of thieves, rapists, and murderers with a huge bounty on their heads – though the legends are far more preposterous than their true crimes.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are Eula and Ellsworth Fiddler, a naïve farming couple barely scarping by. An assortment of other characters fill the novel, from outhouse inspector and manhood wrangler Jasper Cone to the Roman military enthusiast Lieutenant Bovard.  Both perverse and violent, this novel is not without humor and heart. It’s absolutely filled to the brim with southern gothic goodness (just don’t expect any good). If there is a weakness, it’s in the sheer number of characters, but I enjoyed it all the same. In Pollock’s distinctive prose, the reader is taken for a wild, gritty ride that cannot be easily forgotten.

As for the average reader, this book presents an inscrutable dilemma. It’s a good book, but it’s dark, dismal, and full of black humor. I think the average reader could appreciate Pollock’s brilliant writing and dialogue, even if the subject causes one to cringe now and again. He has a wondrous sense of place and character, but, quite honestly, there are just certain things you can’t unread. They percolate in your mind and one day you find yourself thinking “so a ham and a whore are essentially the same thing…?” Would I recommend it? Yes, just know your audience (and read The Devil All the Time first).

In closing…

A couple of hours later, as they made their way through a thorny brake in single file, Cob turned in his saddle and looked back at Chimney. “Can I ask ye something?” he said.

“What’s that?”

“If’n one of them whores you talk about is worth two or three dollars, how much ye figure a good ham cost?”

“Oh, probably about the same, I reckon. They wouldn’t be much difference between a whore and a ham.”

“Well, then,” Cob said, “how many of them could we buy with the money we got?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe a hundred.”

“Whew,”Cob exclaimed. “That sounds like a lot.”

“Yeah, it’d take a day or two to fuck that many.”

“No, I mean, that’s a lot of hams, ain’t it?”

Chimney laughed. “You’re goddamn right it is. Why, if ye was to eat that many hams, ye’d probably turn into a pig yourself.”

“Oh, that’d be fine with me,” Cob said. “All they do is lay around in the mud all day while somebody feeds ’em horseweeds and slop. Shoot, what more could a feller want out of life than that?”


Literary Mixtape | Revival

RevivalAs an alternative for a review, synopsis, or anything of the like, I decided to create a soundtrack for the book. Please note that quite a bit of this is intended to be playful and irreverent. I’m rarely serious and this post is no exception.

Except this is a serious book with serious themes. It’s not that vampires and zombies aren’t serious, because they are (threatening to drain you of your blood and eat you), but religion is something else entirely.

Religion is the theological equivalent of a quick-buck insurance scam, where you pay in your premium year after year, and then, when you need the benefits you paid for so—pardon the pun—so religiously, you discover the company that took your money does not, in fact, exist.

The novel centers around Jamie, who is introduced as a child, and follows him for five or so decades, as his life intertwines with that of Charles Jacobs. As Jamie grows up, he becomes a guitarist and embraces the rock and roll lifestyle – and various addictions – there is no event more profound than when Jamie meets Charles. The consequences for both are staggering. The novel, well written and brief by King standards, explores the many meanings of revival. It’s worth the read and definitely one of his better novels.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating…

This was a difficult mixtape to create, if only because I had to walk a fine line between being creative and just using all of the songs King himself references (and it’s an extensive list). So, as the name implies, the result is a mix. Some I added (like Son of a Preacher Man and Fire) and others King quoted in the novel (like Cherry, Cherry and Wild Thing).

Enjoy responsibly.

01. Son of a Preacher Man / Tom Goss
02. I Want to Hold Your Hand / The Beatles
03. Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright / Bob Dylan
04. Cherry, Cherry / Neil Diamond
05. Green River / Creedence Clearwater Revival
06. Who’ll Stop the Rain / Creedence Clearwater Revival
07. Brown Eyed Girl / Van Morrison
08. Wild Thing / Jimi Hendrix
09. Baby Blue / Badfinger
10. Hang on Sloopy / The McCoys
11. I’ll Be Seeing You / Billie Holliday
13. Fire / Barns Courtney

It’s hard to compete with a novel where the main character is a musician. Do you attach songs to novels? I often can’t help it…

Lists, Personal

Ten Things I Hate About You

Or ten things you’ll love about me? Whichever.

Sky Pond RMNP

As bookish as the site tends to be, sometimes it’s more fun to find out more about the person behind the blog…? Is that true? It’s true for me. I love reading about others, but I’m generally somewhat hesitant to share about myself. Weird how that works.

Let’s see. What won’t bore you to tears… I mean, did you know I’m like Stephen King?! I think you did.

  1. For those who follow along, I just announced that I’m having a baby! It’s certainly not the most interesting thing about me, but it’s probably the most…obvious, at the moment.
  2. I love, love, love the movie Ten Things I Hate About You. Julia Stiles is my hair idol. Also, for better or worse, really enjoyed some of that soundtrack.
  3. I am currently completing my continued education for the year (for my job) in Virginia. It’s a one week intensive course about scientific illustrations through 1800. It is actually the longest period I’ve been away from my kids (please ignore the sniffles).
  4. I love National Parks. This year I’ll check three off my list: Crater Lake National Park, Big Bend National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park.
  5. I love the outdoors, especially hiking and swimming. I would love it even more if I could somehow make my wonderful queen size mattress fit in my four person tent.
  6. There’s a lot to be both angry and sad about in the world, and most of the time I don’t know what to say. One of the topics that irritates me the most is that no one ever asks my husband why he doesn’t (or if he’s planning on) staying home with the kids. That is the number two question I’m asked, right after do I know what I’m having. “So will you stay home with the kids now?” is one of the fastest ways to get on my nerves. It seems almost trivial with the state of things in the world, but…it’s not to me.
  7. I feel like the only person not obsessed with Hamilton. It’s on my list to get to, really! I find it odd how not keeping up with pop culture can make you feel a little isolated.
  8. The new Gilmore Girls, however, will be made a priority. SO EXCITED.
  9. I’m terrified of flying on tiny planes. I took a 23 minute flight from Washington, D.C. to Charlottesville, VA recently and thought I was going to die for every single one of those minutes.
  10. At this point, I am (a bit) legitimately worried that you’re bored. I don’t watch TV, I don’t read YA, I’m not obsessed with Hamilton, I exercise and eat right, I’m pregnant (which means I desperately miss gin), and I really do love clogs. Who loves clogs?! But seriously, exciting times around here. Fun Fact: A coworker recently told me only old people wear clogs. Whatever.

I hope this post didn’t leave you…whelmed.

Happy Tuesday! Tell me something about yourself! If you’d like. If I was a good blogger, I’d give you a prompt.

(I’m a bad blogger.)

Image found here.


May I Introduce You to the Following?

It may seem easy for an author to amass 2000+ ratings on Goodreads. After all, look at how many these books have (I chose a handful of my favorites):

The Stand (412886), Jane Eyre (1,164,015!), Empire Falls (86,492), Deliverance (42,487), even The Girls – which was just released on June 14th – has 5,967.

The following were accurate when I wrote the list (July 3, 2016) and they are woefully underrated, yet I’d highly recommend them!

Low Rated Books

Daredevils by Shawn Vestal (223). A teenager is swiftly married off as a sister wife to a fundmentalist with a wife and a horde of children. She meets his nephew and they try to make a break for it.

Donnybrook by Frank Bill (920). Three days. Twenty men. One wire ring fence in the middle of nowhere. Bare-knuckled fighting until the last man is left standing.

The Rathbones by Janice Clark (1111). A mysterious whaling family with an even more mysterious family history is slowly revealed by the diminutive lady of the house.

Hitchers by Will McIntosh (448). After a terrorist attack, people find themselves talking in others’ voices. It turns out dead souls are hitching a ride on the living. Now to get the dead back to Deadland…

The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan (1023). “A young sheriff and a hardened killer form an uneasy and complicated bond in this mesmerizing first novel set on the plains of Montana…”

The Marauders by Tom Cooper (1447). Funnier than any novel set in post-Katrina Louisiana has a right to be.

A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain by Adrienne Harun (623). “In this intoxicatingly lush debut novel, Adrianne Harun weaves together folklore, mythology, and elements of magical realism to create a compelling and unsettling portrait of life in a dead-end town.”

Smonk by Tom Franklin (808). Smonk. How would you describe Smonk…? “Syphilitic, consumptive, gouty and goitered, Smonk is also an expert with explosives and knives. He abhors horses, goats and the Irish. Every Saturday night for a year he’s been riding his mule into Old Texas, destroying property, killing livestock, seducing women, cheating and beating men—all from behind the twin barrels of his Winchester 45-70 caliber over and under rifle. At last the desperate citizens of the town, themselves harboring a terrible secret, put Smonk on trial, with disastrous and shocking results.”

Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington (1,028). Aside from all the Neil Young references, this novel is worth reading for the southern Gothic mystery goodness.

Haints Stay by Colin Winette (226). Oddly humorous for the western, reimagined.

For more undervalued books, visit these lists.


Midnight’s Children // Six Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. I haven’t read this one and can honestly say that I likely never will. I should, but… Perhaps I should’ve read it instead of picking up the first link in the chain – Paula Brackston’s The Midnight Witch. I didn’t like it, not even a little, but I still find the cover appealing, because it reminds me of one of my favorite movies as a teenager – Ever After (starring Drew Barrymore). The shoes look similar to the ones that Drew/Danielle wears to the ball. When she first speaks with Prince Henry, Danielle quotes from Thomas More’s Utopia (which I also have not really read).

However, among classic authors named Thomas, my favorite is Thomas Hardy. I love several of his novels, but one of my favorites is Far From the Madding Crowd, which, incidentally, is also a wonderful movie. Suzanne Collins counts Hardy among her influences as well, and Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games owes her last name to Bathsheba Everdene, the feisty heroine of Hardy’s novel. UnSurprisingly enough, I am not that fond of the Hunger Games trilogy, but I do love a good character named Kat…

In what I can only assume is a fit of teenage nostalgia, my next link is based on another beloved movie from my teens – 10 Things I Hate About You, which chronicles the caustic Kat’s first foray into love. It’s based on William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, which is in no way his best work. Let’s take a moment to discuss how great the ’90s were for literary adaptations, because I’m rounding out this trip down memory lane with Clueless – another favorite – which is modern take on Jane Austen’s Emma and the final link in this month’s chain.

I love the ’90s way more than is permissible in modern times…(and don’t tell me if you don’t love Clueless.)

Chime in, or better yet, join in over at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

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