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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 am about a third of the way through The Living and something is bothering me. It's not 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 becoming thoroughly engaged in the narrative. The bottom line is that I just don't care about any of the characters; I don't feel invested in them in any way. It's good storytelling but storytelling that does not get under your skin. I heard Joyce Carol Oates speak recently about how she has tried to include more dialogue (and less description) in her novels. This book has very little dialogue which I think contributes to how distanced one feels as a reader. It's the antithesis of someone like Cormac McCarthy whose dialogue reels you in and twists your heart or Harriet Simpson Arnow (The Dollmaker) whose pitch-perfect characters haunt you days after finishing one of her novels. I was hoping for a heart-wrenching, gut-churning novel but so far am left feeling a bit empty. I will keep plugging away--maybe I just need to get further along in the book.......
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