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The Living

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  1,995 ratings  ·  261 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
Paperback, 397 pages
Published May 1st 1992 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published 1992)
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Community Reviews

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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
Donna Davis
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
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
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
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.
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
Harold Titus
“The Living” by Annie Dillard portrays the numerous hardships and the strengths and weaknesses of character of the original white settlers and their immediate descendents in the northwest corner of Washington State during the last half of the Nineteenth Century. Her novel begins in the fall of 1855 with the arrival of a fictitious pioneer family, the Fishburns, and ends in July 1897 with a celebratory gathering of second and third generation friends that include a Fishburn son and granddaughter. ...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.
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...
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.
As a fan of Annie Dillard, I enjoyed reading this one. Anyone expecting a pageturner might as well turn the other way, but I don't necessarily mean that to be a bad thing. This is a slow, languorous read; this is one you will want to sink into for a while and soak up. If you've read anything by Annie Dillard before, you sort of know what to expect here. Her writing is beautiful and it's worth it to take note of it. At times, her metaphors can be rather thick and heavy, but she forces you to pay ...more
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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

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
"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
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
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
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
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
"...God might have created such a plunging shore as this before He thought of making people, and then when He thought of making people, He mercifully softened up the land in the palms of his hands wherever He expected them to live, which did not include here." 4

"There's just a think sheet of sandpaper between this country and hell." 9

"...he could not recollect why he had been so all-fired busy all these years, congratulating himself, life everyone else; no wonder people were so astonished to die
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.
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.
After reading American Childhood, I so wanted to like this book. I really enjoy historical novels, and the Pacific Northwest seemed like such a great setting, it seemed that the possibilities were great, but the opportunity was missed. Like many other reviewers, I didn't feel that I connected with any of her characters; I felt like an observer from a distance, watching these people go about their lives but not having any insight as to their feelings or motivations. Her writing is so descriptive, ...more
Jeanne Grunert
I tried really, really hard to like this book. And I hate writing bad reviews. Let's just say this was not my type of book. I actually did not finish reading it. The characters were unlikable and poorly developed, the narrative was all over the place, and the author told rather than showed most of the action...the book also needed a new editor. In the first chapter, a male baby is referred to as "it." I just do not understand why this book was lauded as a great literary feat. I suppose it's a so ...more
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
Jim loughborough
There is an excellent book in there, but it desperately needs an aggressive editor to bring it out.
B. Mason
"The Living" is a deft novel and as driven as I was to finish reading I didn't find the overall narrative to be too compelling. Dillard holds a weighty and biblical tone through most of the book as it chronicles life of pioneers in Whatcom County. Reading about life during this time was detailed and if you've ever visited the Puget Sound area the perspective of awe and wonder Dillard captures in the setting is well crafted indeed. It is a great skill to be able to capture the lives of particular ...more
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
The fictional history of the villages around Bellingham Bay in the latter half of the 19th century, which eventually combined to become Bellingham, WA. It's very long (400 pages of small print, with no chapter breaks), and seemed longer! Many of the characters start to be developed and then have their deaths announced abruptly. Because of this, I hesitated to get very involved in the lives of the characters of the next generation. Eventually I was drawn in anyway, and the latter part of the book ...more
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
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Annie Dillard (born April 30, 1945) is an American author, best known for her narrative prose in both fiction and non-fiction. She has published works of poetry, essays, prose, and literary criticism, as well as two novels and one memoir. Her 1974 work Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Dillard taught for 21 years in the English department of Wesleyan Unive ...more
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“She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.” 464 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.” 45 likes
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