Katie Parker's Reviews > The Living

The Living by Annie Dillard
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Jul 27, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: all-time-favorites, historical
Read in April, 2011 , read count: 1

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 on the Bellingham Bay from 1855 to 1897, following several different families that settle in the territory to make a new start and try their luck in a land with “trees as big around as buildings, growing close as grass.” The cast of characters is rich and realistic, such as: Clare Fishburn, who came to Whatcom as a small boy and is, by the end of the book, a middle-aged man with a wife he loves and three children of his own; John Ireland Sharp, who takes pleasure in life’s simplicities, unlike his ambitious, kleptomaniac wife; and Minta Honer, a socialite who emigrates from Maryland with her new husband and discovers just how much she can endure.

Dillard’s prose is really what makes this book:

“The shore looked to Ada as if the corner of the continent had got torn off right here, sometime near yesterday, and the dark trees kept on growing like nothing happened. The ocean just filled in the tear and settled down.”

“How loose he seemed to himself, under the stars! The spaces between the stars were pores, out of which human meaning evaporated.”

“When, over the following months, Minta Randall found that Eustace apparently reciprocated her profoundest and most secret feelings, she thought she had never lived before, or knew what life could hold, or what absolute power one heart could exert upon another. She perceived no trace, fossil, or echo of this wild sensation anywhere around her, and concluded that she and Eustace had invented it together, which would be, she thought, just like them.”

“From deep in the bay he could see Mount Baker in the east, holding the sunset aloft like a cone of coals after the stars came out.”

It’s a slow read (I mean, it tackles 40 years in 400 pages!), but it’s well-worth the time it demands. I can’t recommend it enough!
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Quotes Katie Liked

Annie Dillard
“She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.”
Annie Dillard, The Living

Annie Dillard
“How loose he seemed to himself, under the stars! The spaces between the stars were pores, out of which human meaning evaporated.”
Annie Dillard, The Living

Annie Dillard
“When, over the following months, Minta Randall found that Eustace apparently reciprocated her profoundest and most secret feelings, she thought she had never lived before, or knew what life could hold, or what absolute power one heart could exert upon another. She perceived no trace, fossil, or echo of this wild sensation anywhere around her, and concluded that she and Eustace had invented it together, which would be, she thought, just like them.”
Annie Dillard, The Living


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