All the Living
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All the Living

3.57 of 5 stars 3.57  ·  rating details  ·  857 ratings  ·  225 reviews

One summer, a young woman travels with her lover to the isolated tobacco farm he has inherited after his family dies in a terrible accident. As Orren works to save his family farm from drought, Aloma struggles with the loneliness of farm life and must find her way in a combative, erotically-charged relationship with a grieving, taciturn man. A budding friendship with a han

Hardcover, 199 pages
Published March 31st 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2009)
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This is the highest compliment I can pay to a book: I miss it. I finished it a a week ago but didn't have time to review till now. If Morgan had written a book thousands of pages long, I would read every one.

This book exemplifies "quiet," that term all lit writers hate to hear when they submit to agents and editors, as it almost always comes with a rejection. I've never read a quieter novel than this one. Really only three characters. One setting. Nothing much happens. It's all the internal wres...more
Ariel Gordon
IT might seem strange to recommend a novel about a drought set in the U.S. south while we endure our northern flood.

But a conflagration is a conflagration, and Kentuckian C.E. Morgan's All the Living is a damn fine distraction.

This lean little novel, Morgan's first, tells the story of Aloma and Orren, a young couple who attempt to run the family farm after Orren's mother and brother die in a tragic accident. Two things get in their way: the drought that has settled over the region and the fact A...more
I might have given this 3 stars if I based it solely on the story which is slow moving and where nothing seems to really happen . Then I thought about how much the writing conveyed and decided 3 stars wouldn't be fair .

There's no need for me to give a synopsis of the book ; you can read that yourself . I can only tell you that I could see the drought on this tobacco farm probably somewhere in Kentucky. I could feel Aloma's emptiness , her desire for a happier life , her need to fill the void in...more
This book really affected me. It was all I could think about during the couple days I spent reading it, and it is still stuck in my head a week later. It made me think about whether love is just a matter of circumstance, and whether, in the search for freedom/happiness, it is ok to settle for mediocrity or what one is "comfortable" with. Morgan has a very distinct way of writing, which plays into the vivid imagery of the book. She uses words in a pleasantly strange way (not strangely pleasant) t...more
Sep 27, 2012 Elizabeth rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Will- mostly b/c i want to read his review!
Shelves: fiction
Oh, this is a beautiful and melancholic read.
Astonishingly, so.

The story is a timeless one. To Stay or To Go. The setting is a small town at the base of the mountains in Kentucky. The descriptions of farm life, church, love, and internal conflict are flawless. (It is in these descriptions that it is evident C.E. Morgan went to Divinity School at Harvard).

The ending broke my heart. But I would read it again without a moment's hesitation.
Charles White
Just absolutely terrible. The style apes McCarthy, but misses all the gravity. Idle showboating without the boat, or the show for that matter.
I read a lot of the reviews for this book and was prepared to be disappointed because of the hype but found myself intrigued. It's another one of those modern books without a lot of plot but Morgan more than makes up for it with her wonderful, subtle writing and her insight adjacent aha's. The ending surprised me as well. The main characters are a pair of kids who are forced to grow up fast and they chose to agree to hold up one another. They almost fail at this last but they almost succeed. The...more
One measure of a fine writer is how much tension he or she might wring from an ordinary moment. Nothing much happens in this enthralling little book and yet the language held me under its sway. I might be tempted to call it a ballad for a vanished way of life, only I think the moments rendered in these pages could have happened in the long ago or some day in the future, because there are things about human beings that don't change from age to age, and good books capture just such truths. It's no...more
Wow. All the Living reads like a waking dream on a hot August afternoon. The language is a delerious mix of colloquialism and lyricism. Like Coomer's Decatur Road, I feel myself wanting to read it twice; once for the sheer enjoyment of the story and the second time to revel in the language. Ms. Morgan writes a story that seeps into you, permeates like the musk of the soil, envelopes the reader with the acrid scent of the farmstead and the heat of hard work and through it all Aloma's nervous fing...more
I am blown away by this story. All I can say is C.E. Morgan has written the richest and most beautiful story I have read in a long time. She has captured something extraordinary on paper--the people, the land, the smells, the heat, the fear, the joy, the sadness. Her writing is impeccable, readable, soul-searching. In the end, I felt like I was there, like I knew these people---what an excellent read! I'm afraid to try the next book on my list---it may pale in comparison.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bonnie Brody
The title of this novel is taken from Ecclesiastes. Amid the hollers and rural landscape of Kentucky, circa 1984, Aloma and Oren try to make their lives on Oren's tobacco farm. Narrated in a dialect that appears quite authentic, the reader is told a story of two damaged souls who try to find love together but more often end up making war.

Aloma has come to Oren's farm straight from her mission school. Brought there when she was three years old, this is the only home she has ever known. Her family...more
This story reminded me at the onset of Thomas Hardy's "Under the Greenwood Tree", which may have been intentional on the author's part -- two men vying for the attention of a young woman who has newly moved in to town. One is a minister, the other a farmhand, and in both stories, she plays piano.

I think C.E. Morgan has great skill and I appreciate her talent with her turn of a phrase. Yet I do not feel this book came into completion; I anticipate her future books will be more solid as she hones...more
Dec 12, 2011 Kate rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Kate by: National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 2009
I loved this.

Aloma is a mission-school educated orphan teaching piano in west Texas when she meets Oren (forgive the spelling mistakes, I listened to the audio version), a young farmer's son who is studying at Texas A&M. Aloma dreams of being a concert pianist and Oren of a large and successful farm, but both of their dreams are shattered when Oren's mother and brother, the only family he has left, are killed in a car accident and the two young lovers move back to the family farm.

The influ...more
First of all, a gripe.
I confess my aversion to books who condescendingly offer ridiculous titles like this one...All the Living: A Novel
Do we really need these qualifiers? Henceforth:
Barack Obama: A President
Tuna-Noodle Casserole: A Food
So there. I do feel a bit better.
On to my review, which is leaner than my complaint.
All the Living (A Novel) is a well-written book that tells a simple story. It fits neatly into the Gap Creek/Plainsong genre which deals in the strife and sorrows of our country b...more
Nichole (Dirty H)
To be clear, though this may seem redundant, my star rating reflects my overall enjoyment of the book and not my perception of the quality of the writing or the book's literary value.

This was a well written book and I daresay it was "really good", I just didn't particularly like it. I found it to be incredibly depressing. And I have a bone to pick with the writer of the blurb because I disagree that this book is about choosing between freedom or giving in to love. I don't think there was ever an...more
All the Living is filled with gorgeous writing that continually had me stopping to re-read sentences and enjoy the vivid picture that author CE Morgan paints. Reading this book is like stepping into Aloma and Orren's world - you can taste the "blond curls" of dust, and the jarring sound of an ancient piano that was "spoiled like a meat" rings in your ears. Morgan's characters are real people whose actions are a direct result of their limited life experience. As a musician, I especially appreciat...more
"We grieve and wonder how come the rain won't fall and we know there's a answer to that despair, because that despair is a question, it ain't a answer, that's what we got to remember: God is the answer, the four gospels is a answer to that despair and to where our spirits go. And yet--he paused, breathed, and said-- man will be to suffer. And his voice fell to nothing for a moment as he ruminated and placed one hand in his pocket, and then removed it and shook it against his thigh as if he were...more
The vernacular was a little challenging and unreadable at times, but her writing is beautiful. How she forms her sentences, and thoughts.
Very sparse and bleak overall although a unique read. Had it not felt so bleak, sad, depressing, I might have had a better feel after just finishing it.
But also at times like this, a book lingers in my memory and sinks in with a more favorable feel. I think this book will be like that.
Both Aloma and Orren are so sad that it feels sad reading their story, a sna...more
Really enjoyed this literary fiction tale that unfolds over one summer in rural Kentucky. It is a compelling story about a young woman who was an orphan at age 3, and who has just set up home with her first boyfriend, an inexperienced tobacco farmer who has also just lost his family in tragic circumstances. They have a passionate but flawed relationship and feeling isolated physically and emotionally, she is tempted to stray with a local preacher. The summer heat of both the locale and the relat...more
Written in a different form from most books with vivid descriptions of time and place, dialogue, and the voice of a true Kentucky mountain individual. The story of an orphan girl who meets a young man and later moves in with him at the family homestead after his parents are killed in a car accident. Her one love in life is playing the piano and she volunteers at the local church so this fills her empty days while the young man farms the land from sunup to sundown. An interesting book, a good boo...more
Kate SouthernBelleSimple
When I finished this book, I found myself wishing it weren't over...or at least that it didn't end the way it did. I think it is a very good picture of real life...that things don't always look pretty or feel good, but you just have to keep moving forward. This isn't always what I want out of a book though, because real life gives us enough of that. I want to be hopeful for Orren and Aloma. Maybe all they need is a little hope.
I need to marinate on this book a little more. It was very readable; the story moved along well. The characters were well-drawn and believable. The writing was far above average though a little too lofty sometimes. I just never totally cared what happened to the main characters, Aloma and Orrin. I simultaneously liked and hated how oppressive the land was, and how stifling the house. I was impressed with how Morgan put me into the space; I could almost feel the dust in my lungs and see the photo...more
John Sparks
The book to me was reminiscent of two short stories: Hamlin Garland's "Among the Corn Rows" and Flannery O'Connor's "The Crop." That, along with an observation O'Connor once made: when you write about the South the way the North wants you to, the critics call it Realism; when you write about it the way it is, they call it grotesque. It's up to the reader to decide which camp this one falls in.
This is a writing tour de force--absolutely elegant. It's spare and lush at the same time--everything about the writing contributes to the overall experience of the story, the plot, the characters, the flow of time, the tone. As an author myself, I marveled at the discipline it must have taken to write this book--nothing is extraneous, nothing strikes an off-note. It's simply amazing.
I really wanted this book to be better, especially after I had read comparisons to Marilynne Robinson on Goodreads. Don't believe it. This book is all surface, there is none of the psychological depth that there is in Robinson's work. It's a simple story, simply told, more Elizabeth Berg than Marilynne Robinson.
Roberta Wilson
I really loved this book! I sometimes carry it around like a talisman. I read it years ago, as I couldn't stop thinking about it. We shriek along with Aloma, as she rifles through dusty boxes to evict a spider from its home. I smelled the rice that she burnt one night, cooking for Orren.
She was given a task, not many could stomach, building a life she didn't really know how to anchor, and questions surrounded her at every turn. Would she and Orren, eventually, marry?
She had invested a great dea...more
Diane Lockward
A thoroughly detestable main male character. Hard to believe the female protagonist would stay with him. Irritating dialogue and style. Nevertheless, I have to give it this many stars as it pulled me in and made me react to the characters, albeit negatively.
I might've just read my favorite book of the year on the first of the year. This sets the bar high. Beautiful language, stunning dialogue.

Oh it's well written but the sheer burden of life on an underperforming farm stood in my way of enjoying this novella to the fullest. Don't let me keep you from reading it, know that it's simply my own weariness that gives me a bias.
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C.E. Morgan studied English and Voice at Berea College and hold's a masters in theological studies from Harvard Divinity school.
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“A soul loves most what is lost.” 3 likes
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