‘The Heavenly Table’ adds some good men to plotline

The Heavenly Table, Donald Ray Pollock’s second novel, has something that neither his previous book, The Devil All the Time, nor Knockemstiff, his debut book of stories, offers: A good man.

Actually, there are two good men, but one dies early in the book. It is 1917, and Pearl Jewett is a widowed sharecropper, starving with his three sons on unleavened biscuits and spoiled meat. He survives this sorrowful life by hoping for the “heavenly table” in the Promised Land, which he will reach if he resists temptation and leads a good life. Pearl tries to instill this aspiration in his sons, Cane, Cob and Chimney, but when he dies, their desperation drives them into a spree of murder and robbery that extends into Ohio.

Though fundamentally decent men, the Jewett Gang are quickly in over their heads. Cane dreams of a real home with books and a quiet wife, mentally challenged Cob wants only an endless supply of food and young Chimney is woman-crazy.

Another good man, Ohio farmer Ellsworth Fiddler, has lost his life savings to a charlatan and his son to alcohol; young Eddie disappears one morning, and Ellsworth and his wife Eula are convinced that he has run off to join the Army at Camp Pritchard. He has not, but others are there, like an intellectual gay lieutenant and the occupants of a makeshift brothel.

One of Pollock’s greatest gifts to his readers is the richness of his characters, even the most minor. We learn all about the Jewett brothers, but when they rob a bank and a general store, the stories of the foppish banker and the desperate shopkeeper are not neglected.

The Heavenly Table is sordid, violent, degenerate, funny and depraved. Donald Ray Pollock is one of our best authors.

The Heavenly Table (365 pages, hardcover) costs $27.95 from Penguin Random House. Donald Ray Pollock lives in Chillicothe. Knockemstiff won the 2009 PEN/Robert Bingham Prize. He will make an appearance in New Philadelphia in October.

Book transforms Jesus into a verb

For John Stahl, senior pastor of Highpoint Christian Church in Clinton, Jesus has become a verb. In Just Jesus Them: The Way to Reignite Your Spiritual Fire Within, Stahl lists 122 ways to “Jesus” people. They include resolving old feuds, giving money to the homeless, family meals, helping others recover from death or trouble.

Though Stahl cites New Testament verses, non-Christians can manage most of his suggestions; as the book’s cover says, “This book is not a devotional, but a ‘DO’-votional.”

Just Jesus Them (257 pages, softcover) costs $16.49 from online retailers. John Stahl lives in Akron.

Events

Loganberry Books (13015 Larchmere Boulevard, Shaker Heights) — Melissa Hintz signs On Chagrin Boulevard: A Collection of Fluff, Fables, Fabrications, Flapdoodle, Free Verse, and Flash Fiction, 1 p.m. Sunday; Christine Bajorek gives a workshop, followed by a reception for Belly Buttons Upside Down: Separating the Wisdom from the Lint and Getting What YOU Want, 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Akron-Summit County Public Library (Kenmore branch, 969 Kenmore Blvd.) — Steve Love and former Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic talk about Love’s book The Indomitable Don Plusquellic: How a Controversial Mayor Quarterbacked Akron’s Comeback at a meeting of the Kenmore Historical Society, open to all, 6:30 p.m. Monday.

Cuyahoga County Public Library (Parma-Snow branch, 2121 Snow Road) — James J. Badal, author of Twilight of Innocence: The Disappearance of Beverly Potts, and Mark Wade Stone, producer of the documentary Dusk and Shadow: The Mystery of Beverly Potts, follow up on the strange 1951 case of the missing Cleveland girl, 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday. The auditorium is full for Dav Pilkey’s appearance to debut his new children’s series Dog Man, also Wednesday, but seats may remain to watch the live stream and get a book signed. Call 216-661-4240.

Mac’s Backs (1820 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights) — Poets M.J. Arcangelini and Dianne Borsenik, and Gregg Shapiro (his new story collection is How to Whistle) read from their work at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Barnes & Noble (198 Crocker Park Blvd., Westlake) — Neil Zurcher signs Best of One Tank Trips, the most recent book in his travel series, 2 p.m. Saturday.

Hudson Library & Historical Society (96 Library St.) — Register now for an appearance by Jennifer Chiaverini, whose Elm Creek Quilts books are local favorites. She will appear at 2 p.m. Sept. 17 to talk about her novel Fates and Traitors, about four women who conspired with John Wilkes Booth about the Lincoln assassination. Call 330-653-6658.

— Barbara McIntyre

Special to the Beacon Journal

Send information about books of local interest to Lynne Sherwin, Features Department, Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309 or lsherwin@thebeaconjournal.com. Event notices should be sent at least two weeks in advance.