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All the Living: A Novel Hardcover – March 31, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Morgan's enchanting debut follows the travails of a young woman who moves to Kentucky with her bereaved lover in 1984. Aloma, herself an orphan from a young age, leaves her job at the mission school where she was raised to help her taciturn boyfriend, Orren, with his family farm after his family is killed in a car accident. Once at the farm, he retreats into himself and working the land, leaving Aloma to wrestle with her desire to pursue her dream of being a concert pianist. As her relationship with Orren becomes more collision than cohabitation, Aloma finds in a local preacher a deep friendship that complicates her feelings for Orren, who drags his feet on marrying her. Young Aloma's growing understanding of love and devotion in the midst of deep despair is delicately and persuasively rendered through the lens of belief—be it in religion, relationships or music. Morgan's prose holds the rhythm of the local dialect beautifully, evoking the land, the farming lifestyle and Aloma's awakening with stirring clarity. (Apr.)
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From The New Yorker

This lyrical tale of grief and gruelling love on a tobacco farm takes place in the mid-nineteen-eighties but, if not for glimpses of linoleum and double-wides, might recall an earlier time. Aloma is an orphan who teaches piano at a mountain mission school; Orren is a “college farm boy” who glances at her sideways and “she thought that was wicked and could not help but like it.” When his family is killed in a car crash, Orren inherits their remote farm, and Aloma comes to live there, despite her dream of being a musician in the “real world.” Morgan is an expansive stylist, fond of rare words (“letheless,” “mortise”) and of the circumlocutions that can pass for plain speaking, but her pacing is shrewd. By the time the harvest is done, two lonely people are fused, if not consoled.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 199 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (March 31, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374103623
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374103620
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #921,667 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. M. VINE VOICE on April 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
C. E. Morgan's first novel, ALL THE LIVING, ought to be destined to become a classic. It should be read in classrooms, and then again later by people who have soaked up more life experience than young students -- or for that matter, than Aloma, its central protagonist -- so they can better appreciate the hard lessons imparted.

It is Orren, Aloma's lover, who speaks those implacable words (above) about happiness. He is a young man determined to make a go of the tobacco farm he inherited when his mother and brother died. He's tied to the land by grit, grief, duty, and sheer stubbornness, and he wants to do everything by himself. Aloma was three when she lost her parents, so she is as alone in the world as Orren. This, and their primal attraction to each other, is why she agreed to come live on this subsistence farm. But, blessed with musical talent on the piano, she isn't tied to the land in thought or action. She has ambitions for herself. She desires escape from the dreary and lonely life there, and she wishes to expand herself as a pianist. Enter the pastor in nearby Hansonville, who, at Aloma's behest, hires her to play for his church's services. He is single and, again, because Aloma implies it, thinks she is also. But these are not frivolous characters, and this is no salacious melodrama. ALL THE LIVING doesn't shy away from honest sexuality, but it isn't so much concerned with extreme acts of betrayal (erotic or otherwise) as with the subtler, internal struggles of men and women.

Morgan earned a master's degree in Theological Studies and puts it to good use by applying a vibrant undercoat of spiritual philosophy to her novel.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
First off, for those of you who might be confused by the plot description - this is not a romance!

The plot of this slim novel is easily described but it not so simple to explain what the author has done here. The prose is beautiful, unusual and almost poetic. The author's ability to cut to the heart of relationships will hold your interest until the last page. I read this book in a day and was surprised at how few events had actually occured but at how much the characters had been through emotionally.

The story, in brief, is that of orphaned Aloma who is raised by Nuns, has a relationship with Orren and returns with him to his family farm when his family is killed in a car accident. If you are expecting action or steamy romance, you will not find it here. Aloma and Orren may be living 'in sin'( and it does figure prominently in Aloma's mind as something she should be ashamed of), and there may be an 'other man' in the story, but the primary focus of the novel is not romance.

Aloma's bereavement is old and one that she is long used to. When we meet her and Orren he too has been bereaved but she cannot fathom his sense of loss or his mute grief at the death of his family. Never having a place of her own she struggles with his desperate need to cling to the family farm which is withering away before them.

This is a wonderfully well written book and I highly recommend it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this assured and evocative debut novel set in rural Kentucky, author C. E. Morgan comes closer to conveying the essence of life, as she sees it, than do most other novelists with generations' more experience. Here Morgan recreates the bare bones lives of subsistence farmers who are irrevocably tied to the land, a land which is sometimes fickle in its ability to sustain those who so lovingly tend it. Orren Fenton is just out of college when he inherits the family's tobacco farm upon the deaths of his mother and brother. Three weeks after the funerals, Orren asks Aloma, his young lover, to come back to the farm with him. Aloma, an orphan from the age of three, is a pianist at the school she attended, and she sees this as her chance to begin a whole new life--a real life of her own.

Aloma and Orren are very young, and the work of running the farm is brutal. Orren cannot afford the time to teach the inexperienced Aloma what she needs to know to help him, and Aloma is left to try to strip the floors, wash the walls, and try to make the old family home inhabitable. The piano there is unusable. Before long, these two inexperienced young people are at each other's throats. Aloma feels abandoned all day, while Orren feels that she does not appreciate his work. His suggestion that she practice the piano at a church in town leads to her meeting with a local preacher, Bell Johnson, a single man who is attracted to her and who represents a different way of life.

Within this simple framework, Morgan explores universal themes: one's dreams for the future vs. the brutal realities of the present, new life and the hopes it represents vs. death of loved ones, the feeling that God watches over all vs.
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Format: Hardcover
I've waited a while to write anything about this novel. For me, "All the Living" is one of those rare books that turns inside your head for weeks after you've finished reading. It's an incredible work. I keep changing my opinion on whether I like Aloma and Orren. They've been thrust into an extremely difficult and adult living situation, but are still children in many ways... and often act like it. They are in the throes of that period of early adulthood where most have the room to freely explore human relationships, both sexual and platonic. Aloma and Orren do not have this luxury. Their physical environment has them tightly boxed and, as a reader, I can feel them suffocating. It's the sort of brink living situation that either forces collapse or induces a surrender to some divine authority. This is an idea that is inherent in Bell's sermons (which are astonishingly written).

Morgan's use of the language is adventurous and, in several places, absolutely breathtaking. The dialogue is pitch perfect.

This book has garnered some buzz in the literary world, and it deserves more. Read it.
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