Arvin Russell is having a tough childhood in the backwoods town of Meade in southern Ohio. His mother is dying of cancer, and his grief-crazed father Willard has set up a “praying log” where he sacrifices animals and makes Arvin pray for hours on end. When his mother dies, his father commits suicide by hanging himself at the praying log.
Back in Willard Russell’s home town of Coal Creek, Virginia, Brother Roy Laferty is a preacher who eats bugs for the glory of God and travels around with his crippled friend Theodore, a gay pedophile. Roy marries Helen, the woman Willard’s mother wanted him to marry, but later, egged on by Theodore, he murders her. The two start off on a spree of serial killing.
As Arvin grows up in Coal Creek with his grandmother, another couple from Meade haunts the highways of the midwest. Carl and Sandy Henderson pick up hitchhiking men. Carl has Sandy seduce them so that he can murder them and take photographs of Sandy with their bodies.
Lee Bodecker, the policeman who accompanied Arvin back to his father’s body when he was a boy, is now the corrupt sheriff of Meade, Ohio. He knows his sister Sandy is a prostitute but is unaware of her more sinister activities with Carl.
Now grown, Arvin has spent his high school years protecting his unattractive, devout cousin Leonora from the taunts of his school fellows. The town is excited because of the arrival of the new preacher, Preston Teagardin, a nephew of the dedicated Reverend Sykes. But Teagardin is not quite as dedicated as his uncle, and he also has an eye for the young girls. He decides that a naive, religious girl might be a good place to start.
The fates of all these people are soon to converge in a way that won’t be pretty. The flavor of the grotesque and perverse echoes of Flannery O’Connor and other Southern Gothic writers. With hardly a redeeming character to be found, we have to wonder if Pollock is simply revelling in his ability to produce such depravity.