Monday, December 27, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: All the Living by C. E. Morgan

All the Living by C. E. Morgan is a short gritty contemporary novel set on a hardscrabble Kentucky tobacco farm.

Aloma, a naive young woman, orphaned at a young age and brought up in a settlement school, has dreams of escaping her life of poverty and deprivation through music. She’s a gifted pianist, though perhaps not gifted enough. She’ll never know unless she can move on. With no resources to strike out on her own, she settles for teaching music at the school. Until she begins seeing a young farmer, Orren. Their dating consists of going for drives and having sex in his truck.

But Orren’s life is upended when his mother and older brother are killed in a car accident and he inherits the farm. He has to take on a huge responsibility at a young age. He asks Aloma to come with him and she says yes, without hesitation. But almost immediately, she begins having regrets.

Orren is swamped by work and by grief. Aloma is overwhelmed by loneliness and dissatisfaction. Worst of all, they are unable to effectively communicate. 

Aloma finds solace at a local church where she is given a job playing piano for the services. Eventually, she is permitted to use the instrument for practice during the week. She spends more and more time there, away from the farm, both because of the piano and because of the preacher. Because Aloma and Orren are not married, she didn’t mention him at first. And then she doesn’t mention him because of a growing attraction between herself and the preacher.

The novel evokes the dirty, backbreaking labor of the farm, the monotony of the days, the loneliness, the fear of failure, and the difficulties of a struggling relationship when neither partner knows the right way to express their feelings. It’s a poignant, beautifully written story. I found myself wishing I could revisit the protagonists in a few years to see how they make out.

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