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The Living
 
by
Annie Dillard
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The Living

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  1,691 ratings  ·  231 reviews
Ninety miles north of Seattle on the Washington coast lies Bellingham Bay, where a rough settlement founded in the 1850s would become the town of Whatcom. Here, the Lummi and Nooksack Indian people fish and farm, hermits pay their debts in sockeye salmon, and miners track gold-bearing streams.

Here, too, is the intimate, murderous tale of three men. Clare Fishburn believes...more
Hardcover, Large Print
Published by Thorndike Press (first published 1992)
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Jesse
There are many fine sentences in this book. The plot is perfectly laid. The characters are well-drawn and the themes are profound. Nevertheless, there is something wrong with this book. It is possible that the author does not love her characters. Or maybe it is that she doesn't love the place, the northwest. It doesn't surprise me that she left the northwest after 5 years and moved back east. I think she doesn't understand what we, and those who lived here before us, really love here on Puget So...more
Yorgos
On its surface, The Living is the story of the settling of the American Northwest, told through the eyes of early settlers in Bellingham bay in Washington. It is an epic, intergenerational account of hardship, boom and bust, the destruction of Native American populations, the felling of the old growth forest, the building of the railroads and successive gold rushes. It's more than that, and deeper. Like her nonfiction, it's a meditation on what makes life worth living, on the unpredictability an...more
Arwen56
Questo romanzo l’ho letto nel 1994. Temporalmente si colloca nella seconda metà dell’Ottocento e narra delle vicende di alcuni pionieri che presero parte alla colonizzazione del nord-ovest dell’immenso territorio americano. Lo sfondo storico, se veritiero (io non ho le conoscenze sufficienti per poterlo affermare), è interessante, ma lo stile dell’autrice è un filino troppo soporifero e distaccato.

Ad ogni modo, non mi è dispiaciuto.
Donna
When I got home from my annual pilgrimage to Powell's City of Books, I looked over my treasures. Those that had been on my wish list got read first. Now I am down to the books I bought because a Powell's employee liked them, or from impulse (rare). I also sometimes buy a book if it has won awards and is in a subject area of interest to me.

This book made me wince when I saw I had paid 75% of the original price. It did not look promising.Stained, or fly-specked around the edges; pages yellowing an...more
Steve
This is a fascinating epic novel, a big book that paints in broad strokes. The author gallops along in her descriptions of events and people; she skips entire years; she describes people as one would describe dolls (the shapes of their heads and facial features). She describes many deaths, but the peculiarities and complications of life most fascinate her. Can one woman survive when just about everyone in her family dies in domestic tragedy? Can one man -- however twisted -- own another person's...more
JoAnn   W.
This was a book about the early settlers in the Puget Sound region of Washington and the hardships they endured, along with the Native-Americans. Ms. Dillard repeatedly made the point that many people died young, sometimes violently, sometimes very suddenly She wrote so that the reader had no warning of the sudden death of a character. She made me appreciate the transitory nature of life and the gift of life.
Brian
I was hugely surprised at the struggle it was to finish this. Upon first reaing, "The Living" is a testament to Dillard's considerable abilities to write in an eipc style; that sense of the epic persists throughtout, leaving the reader at times quite outside the narrative. Characterization saves this one, though-- the individuals depicted become so real throughout their stories that they are hard to let go...
Susie
Interesting story, I like historical fiction. But the characters are none of them sympathetic - it's sort of a James Michener read all over again, looking at the people who've lived in a region over time and unpacking the history of that place. But I don't really love or care at all about any of the characters. I probably won't finish this one.
Mark Gromko
The Living is a beautiful and rugged story, beautifully told. Annie Dillard is a seer of emotion, of human interaction, and of natural beauty. She works by exposing the beauty of details and moments with finely crafted prose; the details fill the story like grains of sand and small stones fill a beach, blending to fill the broad vista of a human life as it is shaped by the changing times. This is one of the best books I have read.

“Hugh held the lantern aloft and saw it illumine the stiff boughs...more
Larry Bassett
I am a fan of Annie Dillard. I first read A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek when I was a teenager and could still remember those earlier days when I spent time out in the wilds. Today it is the suburbs but back in the 1950s there were still fields and streams. But this book, The Living: A Novel, is a trip into the unknown for me. But, it turns out, a very enjoyable trip.

The name of the author and the cover with a rustic homestead first attracted me to this book and GR BookSwap made it available to me at...more
Kate
"The Living is a vivid, populous, old-fashioned novel about the Pacific Northwest frontier.

"Bellingham Bay lies ninety miles north of Seattle, on the northwest coast of Washington State. A rough settlement founded in the 1850s became the town of Whatcom. The Living tells the rich and serious story of nineteenth century Whatcom.

"Here is the intimate, murderous tale of three men. Clare Fishburn believes that greatness lies in store for him. John Ireland Sharp, an educated orphan, abandons hope whe...more
Matt Dean
This book is beautifully written. The prose is as fine and as lovely as anything I've ever read. The book is majestic and magisterial, as formidable as the densely forested lands that the characters strive to master and tame.

And yet, well, put it this way: one character is said to have written a three-hundred page epic poem in which men battle polar bears and pack ice; although the poet is a rank amateur, I wish I could have read his no-doubt-inept poem rather than this finely wrought novel.

I w...more
Jenny
What I loved:

1) Again, I'm a sucker for a way-out-west pioneer story. Just love 'em. And the more settlement details the better.

2) Chocked full of historical tidbits of the Pacific Northwest. Made me want to move there right now (so what if I'm a few centuries late...)

3) The stark unromanticism of Dillard's story-telling. It made everything feel very authentically harsh and unforgiving---pretty apropo for the setting.

What I hated:

1) Like another reviewer, I wasn't all that interested in ANY of t...more
Ann
Annie Dillard is one of my favorite authors, so I expected a lot from this book. I did not find what I was looking for.

The Living seemed a disjointed story with a revolving carousel of characters, only one of which seemed even partially well drawn, and that was the villain.

I found this in tone, a violent book, dark and without redemption. If I had not known, I would never have guessed Annie Dillard as the author. This perhaps says something about her ability as a writer to be able to change vo...more
Christine
This piece of historical fiction really took perseverence! It's a lengthy story set in the mid- to late- 1800's, about settlers to the Puget Sound area of Washington. I learned a lot about that place and time--relations between white settlers and native americans and then later, Chinese immigrants, the density and enormity of the timber and the difficulties that posed, the impact of the economic crashes of that period, and just how precarious life was in that wilderness... but Dillard doesn't cr...more
Diane
Whew... this was much more about the dying than about the living. I picked this up because it was about the settling of the Puget Sound area and I'll be vacationing there soon. I thought I might get some insight into the history of the Northwest. It IS informative in a Michener sort of way. There is a lot of effective descriptive writing about the moody beauty of this coast My friends tease me about liking stark, spare, dark novels but this was VERY stark. You just get interested in a character...more
Heather
This book got into my skin like the good pioneer dirt and the deathsong of burning redwoods. I think Annie Dillard is my new favorite. I loved the epic sweep of this novel; every character became as irritating and loveable as my own household mates, every animal and being took my breath away with his or her particular awareness and being. I am inpsired to research, to write, to learn, to think, to breathe, to climb, to swim, to drown in the waters of life and literature.
Jenwah
The only novel by Annie Dillard, and it's really amazing. A historic fiction of the settlement of Bellingham Bay. She writes the way it must have felt. Lonely, factual... a hollow accounting of the death of loved ones. Then it slowly comes alive, emotional.... one of the only "epics" that I've truly enjoyed.
Caveat: some long-winded rambling poetic passages that I need to read a few more times before I "get it". .... and some parts that are really violent.
Claudia Sesto
"Sulle ali dorati dei dolci tempi passati".
Un libro che racconta della grande epopea dei coloni americani in cerca di fortuna alle pendici del monte Baker, tra innumerevoli difficoltà, morti improvvise, l'amicizia forte con le popolazioni indiane del posto, la costruzione della linea ferroviaria e i primi collegamenti marittimi con la costa ricca dell'est, la scoperta di giacimenti dell'oro, la bonifica dei terreni e la costruzione di nuove città.
La scrittrice ci descrive i personaggi in manier...more
Jim
There is an excellent book in there, but it desperately needs an aggressive editor to bring it out.
Mike Barker
I bought this books years ago, and it has languished on the shelf seemingly forever. I recently sold off some books and rediscovered this book, and the fact that I had never gotten around to reading it. It was very compelling, and I enjoyed it. It was sort of like a Michener novel, with several families moving in parallel through a period in history, but with much more literary heft. Though all but two of the characters are fictional, it pointed out my lack of knowledge about development in the...more
Erika
I am an ardent lover of Annie Dillard's work, one of her biggest fans, I'm sure. I didn't know much about this book going in, only that it was about the early settlers of the Pacific Northwest.

I was surprised by its epic sweep, the grainy detail into nearly every aspect of pioneer life, the multitude of characters. Tremendous research went into this book, and it paid off.

That said, it took me much longer to finish than I anticipated, and part of that was because I just never got "lost" in it. Y...more
Linda Tiessen-Wiebe
I’ve only read one other Annie Dillard book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and I was struck by how vividly she captures nature and its impact on us humans. The Living takes this nature mysticism into a narrative form. In this story, nature is transcendant. The trees are huge and grow thick; pristine forest. The mountains barely traversed. No transcontinental railway yet, before the gold rushes, American Indians not yet decimated. The dreamers and restless folk who find themselves homesteading on the...more
Katie Parker
One of my very favorite things in the world is references to Seattle or Washington State in movies, TV, etc., so this whole novel was a complete treat for me. I had initially started reading Jonathan Evison’s West of Here, but I hated his writing, and it didn’t feel even remotely authentic. Why make up a town for your book when there is so much real history to write about? I ditched it pretty quickly in favor of this one, which had been on my to-read list for several months.

The novel takes place...more
Krista
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Maureen


It is hard to know what to say about this book, and even harder to rate it. I complained loudly and often about it as I was reading it - "And now we're talking about skeletons! Fantastic!" But at the same time, there was something really compelling about the characters, and their struggles with each other, the weather, the trees, and most especially the economy. Maybe it was my interest in the history that kept me going, or maybe it was a deep sympathy with Dillard's obvious love of words. I wa...more
Chana
Beautiful writing but perhaps misnamed. Called The Living, but well riddled with death. This author is constantly killing her characters and her characters are constantly killing the trees of the Pacific Northwest. Death everywhere. She kills off the kids and adults by accidents and illnesses, she even makes one of her characters a serial murderer. She also wrote two of the most disturbing violent death scenes I have ever read. One of those scenes actually gave me nightmares. It is how mundane s...more
Nelly

I picked up this book after seeing that Dillard had written a review of the book I had just finished reading--John Mathiessen's Shadow County, a book that is an intense, complex, and thoroughly satisfying read. I was about a third of the way through The Living and realized something was bothering me. It wasn't the quality of the writing. Dillard writes beautifully and eloquently and the story she tells is compelling, but there is a detachment from the characters that prevents the reader from be...more
Andrea
I'm very stingy with my 5-star reviews, and while I do have some minor issues with this book, I just have to include it. I've been reading Annie Dillard for about 20 years now, but just in snippets, I find her writing to be very concentrated, so I can only read a little at a time. But she turned out to be just a glorious novel writer. I admit to being somewhat of an epic junkie, so that aspect really drew me in. But her writing is in and of itself so beautiful and simple and complex, I was struc...more
Jodi
I think it's only fair to begin by saying that I live in the area this book takes place, so my opinion is likely to be biased. That said, I thought this was an interesting novel that not only illuminated the ups and downs of life for the early settlers of Whatcom, but also made use of a variety of characters to help the reader understand the diversity of these people, and how their lives overlapped. The relationships between the local native tribes and the settlers, how they worked in tandem to...more
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“She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.” 282 likes
“She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live. She read books as one would breathe ether, to sink in and die.” 29 likes
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