With The Heavenly Table, Pollock returns with another deranged, blood-soaked tale, but because of its technical prowess and contemplation of weighty ideas, it’s his best work yet ... Part Western, part folk tale, part Southern Gothic, The Heavenly Table is all Pollock — scatological, brutal, and bawdy ... The author pulls back from the outright exploitation of characters. Shot through the cracks of their general debasement and idiocy is their humanity ... A striking technical aspect is the thumbnail biography Pollock offers every character.
...[a] wild, rollicking and wonderfully vulgar novel ... it is distinctly refreshing to read contemporary American fiction that concerns itself with such a fundamental problem of existence, far beyond the closed loops of affluent friends cloistered in the same old corners of urban America ... Pollock has set himself the task of working within the constraints of genre, but because he’s such a smart and funny writer, he’s incapable of delivering an empty entertainment ... Yes, The Heavenly Table is an old-fashioned yarn with a pretty predictable plot — but that’s the point, and as with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it is also a riotous satire that takes on our hopeless faith in modernity, along with our endless capacity for cruelty and absurd pretension ... Pollock grants each of his many characters, no matter how minor or wretched, a story and a soul.
Pollock's characters all live in the slipstream of this onrushing future, their lives upended by engines and automation, milking machines, telegraphs and a great war that they don't understand. The result is a story that reads almost like surrealism — like weird fiction save for the certain fact that all of it is real. In its bloody, violent, terrible collisions, The Heavenly Table feels like Blood Meridian if Cormac McCarthy had been born with a streak of black humor in him rather than just terseness and rage.
Pollock is a gifted writer with a unique sensibility and a captivating style. His prose is gritty, his dialogue entertaining. Sentence for sentence, he is an absolute pleasure to read. But The Heavenly Table stalls in a way that Pollock’s other books do not — it drifts far afield of its central narrative, with a huge cast of characters who get back stories and points of view ... The plot is also rather unruly, but it’s hard to begrudge Pollock his excesses when he writes violence and black humor so well ... contains enough poignant and vile humanity to leave a long impression. Even though the novel may not be his best, it’s a book that can only have come from Donald Ray Pollock, who remains one of our most intriguing working writers.
Like a hybrid masterwork of Quentin Tarantino and Flannery O'Connor, Donald Ray Pollock's second novel, The Heavenly Table, is a comic Southern Gothic romp, hell-bent on making the reader squirm and laugh, often at the same time ... Pollock paints this sordid world with a miniaturist brush, sketching quick images of these sad-sack characters, many of whom work into a kaleidoscopic grand finale. He has a gruesome, lyrical touch ... Ultimately this raucous, raunchy novel is a picaresque triumph.
Readers venturing into this grim territory, out beyond Cormac McCarthy and Patrick DeWitt, in the bizarre vicinity of Harry Crews’ manic intensity and the depraved noir of Jim Thompson, are apt to be startled and disturbed by what they witness, and not least of all by the sound of their own laughter ... While this unpredictable menace drives the story, it is in the vividness of Pollock’s descriptions of sordidness and depravity that his dark genius shines ... All of this is leavened by brilliant turns of phrase, profane jokes and folksy aphorisms, resulting in a kind of irresistible vision of a foolish, fallen world.
The story of the Jewett Gang eventually reaches its destination in a satisfying and surprisingly poignant manner, but it's the winding journey there that truly rewards. Pollack is both a wicked stylist and a master storyteller, who seems an endless font of wit and imagination. The Heavenly Table is a vicious, salacious, and unsettling treasure.
The Heavenly Table, feels both timely and timeless, a contradiction that nevertheless holds together in satisfying and surprising ways ... Pollock has a way of providing a clean, clear sketch in a paragraph or so whenever the reader comes across someone new...Pollock’s prose is so delicious that these rapid-fire details are a delight, little morsels that quickly satisfy the who, what, when, and where.
The Heavenly Table belongs to the darkest strain of ghostless American Gothic literature but has been filtered through the nonchalant callousness and deadpan humor of the best Westerns in a way that makes the narrative share DNA with authors as diverse as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Joe Lansdale. Ambitious and sprawling, this novel proves that Pollock is among the best novelists working today.
In brief, passions, and portions, are outsized in The Heavenly Table, which gives it an indigestible quality. The fast-moving adventure and gallery of grotesques consistently entertain, but as one shovels down the novel’s 72 chapters, the concentrated flavor of the exquisite opening becomes a distant memory.