All the Living by C.E. Morgan is about a young woman named Aloma who ends up on a tobacco farm in Kentucky with her boyfriend Orren. Both Aloma and Orren have suffered in their lives. Orren has just lost his family in a car accident and Aloma had been orphaned as a young girl and sent to live with an Aunt and Uncle. Neither is very good at working through the multitude of emotions they are experiencing. Orren is struggling with learning how to run a farm and Aloma is just trying to figure out who she is. This is a very character driven novel with very little plot.
Aloma comes to Kentucky expecting a nice modern house but ends up in the old house which is practically falling apart at the seams. She is a talented pianist and had also been promised a piano. When she finally sees what Orren figures to be a piano she is infuriated-it is a useless piece of furniture. Still, although disappointed, Aloma sets about trying to clean up and learn to cook.
Aloma is restless though and eventually goes into town to see if she can maybe get herself a job at the church playing piano. She is successful but also dishonest. She doesn’t let on that she is living with a man, she basically lets the preacher Bell believe she’s single. The thing is she’s attracted to him and she feels the same from him. Ultimately though deception is never a good idea.
What comes through to me in this novel is the question of knowing if one is in love or not. Aloma is very confused as to who she is and what she really wants but then again, never having dated before, she doesn’t have a lot of experience in that area. Orren just doesn’t know how to have a relationship with a woman actually living with him. It’s a struggle for both of them and over the novel you can see them grow.
The language in the book is beautiful, it’s really almost poetic I guess and that’s not the style I prefer. I know many people would love the way it’s written. One thing I didn’t like was the absence of quotation marks marking the dialogue. It’s a good story about people being lost and trying to find their way back to life and happiness and the descriptions of the land are deep and wonderful. For me though, I never felt completely connected to the characters although more to Aloma than to Orren. Orren is the strong silent type while Aloma lets it all out so you get to understand her more and feel her pain and confusion. As a note there are sex scenes, bad language and several references to religion in the novel for those who aren’t fond of it.
I’m going to leave you with one of my favorite quotes although there are many as Morgan’s writing is so descriptive as to make you feel one with the thought she’s portraying. This one was during a bad storm and since I love storms this one stood out for me…
- ‘At its worst, it sounded like God ripping old-growth trees out of the earth by their roots and then whipping the earth with their length so that the crack of their breaking limbs reported across the land over and over, the reverberations shuddered from one horizon to the other.’ (pg 126, All the Living by C.E. Morgan)