For The Someday Book

Book Review: All the Living

Posted on: June 13, 2014

All the Living by C.E. Morgan, Picador, 2009, 199 pp.

All the LivingAll the Living is a novel about two young adults alone in the world. Aloma was orphaned as a young child, and grew up in a mission school in the mountains of Kentucky. Her love is Orren, who grew up on a family farm, working the land passed down through generations. One day, Orren’s family is killed in an auto accident, and he is alone. Aloma moves to the farm with him, and the two endeavor to make a life together. Aloma misses her role as a pianist, longing for the music that completes her. Orren throws himself into the work of the farm, trying to make up for the absence of his family and hold on to their land. They battle their own loneliness by turning on one another instead of toward one another. The central story arc follows Aloma’s decision to stay or go, to make her life with Orren or leave the mountains behind.

This is a novel of tense feelings and clenched fists, of quiet suffering and unspoken grief. It embodies solipsism and our constant human questioning of our own choices. If we go one way in life, we wonder about the other. The story also grapples with the deep power of grief, the meaning of home, and the challenge of intimacy.

Aloma’s search takes her to church, where she finds access to a piano and human connection. She develops a relationship with the farmer-preacher, Bell, and they talk about her search for “the right feeling.” Bell responds:

I don’t think looking inside for a feeling is nearly ever the answer. It’s looking out. … Well, it seems to me the more attention you spend on the folks around you, the more right feelings you have even for your own self. Seems like the opposite might should be true—turn your mind on your own heart to straighten it out—but that ain’t how I see it. (138)

For all my introversion, I have found Bell’s words to be true over and over again. Looking inside and “focusing on myself” is exactly the wrong way to overcome grief, loneliness or just a case of the blues. Re-orienting away from myself and seeing the needs of others returns me to a “right feeling.”

At one point, Aloma and Orren finally begin to talk, and she declares her desire in the most beautiful of ways:

When I have you, … it’s not enough and I still want some more of you. When you say something, I want to hear you say more and when you go someplace, any place, I want you to come back more than anything. That’s pretty much been true for forever. (194)

What a beautiful description of love.

All the Living is a beautifully crafted exploration of an interior journey for Aloma, exploring the tensions between longing and contentment, loneliness and intimacy in the human heart. Even though it’s short, the novel demands to be savored, lingering over phrases and sentences that invite the reader into contemplation.


1 Response to "Book Review: All the Living"

[…] of what I have been reading, so I caught up by writing these three novel reviews in a row, for All the Living, The Lost Mother and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I realized in doing so that all three of them […]

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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