The Heavenly Table is set in 1917 in and around a small town in Ohio. One storyline concerns the Jewett brothers, the other a farmer named Ellsworth Fiddler. The Jewett boys live a poor, hardscrabble life with their crazy father, Pearl. Ellsworth lost his family savings in a swindle, and his son Eddie has taken to drinking and disappearing. As the book goes on, these storylines grow and then intersect.
Along the way there are several more subplots and characters whose stories converge with those of the Jewetts or Ellsworth (or both), adding to the layered and well-populated feel of the story.
The Heavenly Table is atmospheric and vivid. Engrossing, gritty and dark, and completely absorbing. There’s a certain raw quality to Pollock’s writing, one that can be gory and gruesome. There’s a lot of violence in this book, of many different kinds. And yet there’s also pathos and humor, and maybe even a kernel of goodness.
It’s got the feel of a Western, with all the outlaws and whores and soldiers and poor farmers. But it’s the more the modern, nuanced kind, without too many good guys or lone heroes. Interestingly, I noticed that one of the subject headings for this book is “Noir fiction.” So-called “rural noir,” with lots of bleakness and darkness, is pretty in right now. Sort of a descendant of Southern Gothic.
For readers of Daniel Woodrell, particularly Winter’s Bone. I’d also suggest Black River by S.M. Hulse if you want something with a similar Western tone but not quite as violent or bleak. Kings of the Earth or Finn by Jon Clinch might also be good. Also, do try Pollock’s other books, Knockemstiff and Devil All the Time.