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All the Living

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Overview

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

One of the National Book Foundation's 5 Best Writers Under 35

Finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for a distinguished book of fiction

Third Place in Fiction for the Barnes & Noble Discover Award

Aloma is an orphan, raised by her aunt and uncle, educated at a mission school in the Kentucky mountains. At the ...

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Overview

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

One of the National Book Foundation's 5 Best Writers Under 35

Finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for a distinguished book of fiction

Third Place in Fiction for the Barnes & Noble Discover Award

Aloma is an orphan, raised by her aunt and uncle, educated at a mission school in the Kentucky mountains. At the start of the novel, she moves to an isolated tobacco farm to be with her lover, a young man named Orren, whose family has died in a car accident, leaving him in charge. The place is rough and quiet; Orren is overworked and withdrawn. Left mostly to her own, Aloma struggles to settle herself in this lonely setting and to find beauty and stimulation where she can. As she decides whether to stay with Orren, she will choose either to fight her way to independence or accept the rigors of commitment.

Both a drama of age-old conflicts and a portrait of modern life, C. E. Morgan's debut novel is "simply astonishing . . . a book about life force, the precious will to live, and all the things that can suck it right out of a person" (Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times).

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
"She wondered if all men could sleep this soundly under duress… But she did not know any other men, had not seen the way they slept, and she wondered…how it would feel to have someone else sleep beside her."

With the gentle, unerring confidence and wisdom of a much older writer, Morgan gives us the ageless story of Aloma, a Kentucky orphan who never knew her parents or lived in a house, whose only moments of joy are found playing the piano. Aloma lives a solitary life teaching music in a rural school, dreaming a faraway future as a professional musician, when she meets a reticent farm boy named Orren, and feels an undeniable physical pull.

Their nights of recklessness and freedom are cut short when Orren's family perishes in a car accident, leaving Orren to tend the family tobacco farm. Aloma doesn't hesitate when he asks her to come live with him, but her doubts rage when she sees her new home. It is tragically run-down, and Aloma sees the future ahead of her: endless days of cooking, cleaning, and farm work. And how can she console the silent, grieving man with whom she now finds herself? Her only solace is playing piano for a church where a preacher's kind attention lifts her from her isolation, and ultimately helps her decide whether to submit to the life she's been granted, or leave the farm to seek another. (Summer 2009 Selection)
From the Publisher
"Rarely in this reviewer's memory has a debut novel emerged with such a profound sense of place.... Descriptions are so vivid, yet so integrated and organic, that the reader can almost feel the lassitude of stifling humid air; smell the rich, warm earth; and see the furrowed fields, the dark mountains in the distance.... A slow, seductive dive into another time and place, a deep, quiet place."—Karen Campbell, The Boston Globe

"Astonishing."—The Guardian (UK)

"[A] lyrical tale of grief and grueling love."—The New Yorker

"Those who read for character and landscape will feast on C. E. Morgan’s uncommon debut.... Fans of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead will appreciate Morgan’s sureness with scripture and her skill with characters for whom scripture matters."—Karen Long, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

Mike Peed
Morgan's novel is a whisper of a book, with a striking allegorical agelessness…and themes of death and mourning skillfully made to chafe those of young love and yearnings for exploration…Morgan's success, …comes in her articulations of backwoods Southern speech and in her patient tightening of the story's tension.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Morgan's enchanting debut follows the travails of a young woman who moves to Kentucky with her bereaved lover in 1984. Aloma, herself an orphan from a young age, leaves her job at the mission school where she was raised to help her taciturn boyfriend, Orren, with his family farm after his family is killed in a car accident. Once at the farm, he retreats into himself and working the land, leaving Aloma to wrestle with her desire to pursue her dream of being a concert pianist. As her relationship with Orren becomes "more collision than cohabitation," Aloma finds in a local preacher a deep friendship that complicates her feelings for Orren, who drags his feet on marrying her. Young Aloma's growing understanding of love and devotion in the midst of deep despair is delicately and persuasively rendered through the lens of belief-be it in religion, relationships or music. Morgan's prose holds the rhythm of the local dialect beautifully, evoking the land, the farming lifestyle and Aloma's awakening with stirring clarity. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Orphaned at three, Aloma has spent most of her life in a settlement school that takes her on as an employee once she finishes her studies. When a group of college boys come to give a presentation, Aloma falls hard and heavy for one called Orren. Soon, they are spending all their spare time with each other, a romantic idyll that ends when Orren's mother and brother are killed in an accident and he convinces Aloma to follow him to the family farm. As Orren struggles to raise a profitable tobacco crop during a season of little rain, Aloma fights to find her identity in the unknown realm of farm life. While Aloma has accepted her loneliness as the natural way of things, Orren is so crushed by the absence of family that he can no longer relate to the young woman trying so hard to be what he needs. Morgan writes beautifully of their hardscrabble farm life, Aloma's longing for something more, and the grieving that weighs them down. The strong tradition of Kentucky literature has found a great new addition in Morgan. A gorgeous debut; recommended for both popular and scholarly fiction collections.
—Debbie Bogenschutz

Kirkus Reviews
A somber, heartfelt and flawed debut from Kentucky resident Morgan. At 18, Aloma is an orphan twice over. She was raised for a time by an aunt and uncle, and then she was sent to a settlement school. When her lover, Orren, is himself orphaned by the car accident that kills his mother and brother, Aloma agrees to join him on his family's isolated tobacco farm. Still trapped in the Kentucky hills that have been suffocating her her entire life and unequipped to play the role of farm wife, Aloma comes to regret the choice she has made. Her unhappiness is compounded by loneliness, and her loneliness is compounded by the fact that grief and desperation have made the already taciturn Orren even less accessible. Orren grows more distant still as the drought that's killing their tobacco plants stretches on. The opportunity to play piano at a church in town gives Aloma a glimmer of hope and a breath of freedom, but her friendship with a young preacher further complicates her already strained relationship with Orren. Will she stay with him, or will she go? This is the question at the heart of this story, but some readers may not be willing to stick around for the answer. Morgan is an earnest and creative writer, but she lacks the kind of discernment needed to propel a novel. She contorts words into tricky shapes-an unmoving fan is "spinless," flood-tossed trailers lie in "tindered" heaps, a boy's eyes are "keenless"-that are innovative without being illuminating. And her narrative suffers from a tendency to describe everything in lyrical, lavish detail. Morgan occasionally musters a fine and telling phrase-"Something unfamiliar rose up in her and it stuck in her throat like a homesickness, but shehad no home, it was a longing that referred to nothing in the world"-but these moments are overwhelmed by the story's grueling pace. Wearying. Agent: Ellen Levine/Trident Media Group
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312429324
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 2/2/2010
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 341,423
  • Product dimensions: 5.38 (w) x 8.18 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

C.E. Morgan studied English and voice at Berea College and holds a master’s in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School. She was named one of the 5 Best Writers Under 35 by the National Book FoundationShe lives in Kentucky.

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Read an Excerpt

She had never lived in a house and now, seeing the thing, she was no longer sure she wanted to. It was the right house, she knew it was. It was as he had described. She shielded her eyes as she drove the long slope, her truck jolting and bucking as she approached. The bottomland yawned into view and she saw the fields where the young tobacco faltered on the drybeat earth, the ridge beyond. All around the soil had leached to chalky dust under the sun. She looked for the newer, smaller house that Orren had told her of, but she did not see it, only the old listing structure before her and the fields and the slope of tall grasses that fronted the house. She parked her truck and stared, her tongue troubled the inside of her teeth. The house cast no shadow in the bare noon light.

The ragged porch clung weakly to the wall of the building, its floorboards lining out from the door, their splintering gray now naked to the elements that first undressed them. When she tested a board with one foot, the wood ached and sounded under her, but did not move. She picked her way around a mudspattered posthole digger and a length of chicken wire to reach the door where she found a paper heart taped to the wood. The shape of the thing gave her pause. She read the note without touching it.

Aloma,

If you come when I’m gone, the tractor busted and I went

to Hansonville for parts. Go on in. I will come back soon,

Orren

In this house, she thought, or the new one? She straightened up and hesitated. Over her head a porch fan hung spinless, trailing its cobwebs like old hair, its spiders gone. She turned to peer behind her down the gravel drive. Displaced dust still hung close behind the fender of her truck, loath to lie down in boredom again. It was quiet, both on the buckling blacktop road where not a single car had passed since she’d driven up, and here on the porch where the breezeless day was silent. A few midday insects spoke and that was all. She turned around and walked into the house.

If it was abandoned, it was not empty. Curtains hung bleached to gray and tattered rugs scattered across the floor. Against one wall, nestled under the rise of a staircase and a high landing, stood an old upright piano. One sulling eyebrow rose. Orren had told her of a piano on the property, one she could practice on, but it could not be this. Aloma edged past its sunken frame, leaving it untouched, and walked back through a dining room washed in south light past a table papered with bills and letters, into the kitchen. The ceiling here was high and white. It seemed clean mostly because it was empty—spacious and empty as a church. She circled the room, tugged open drawers and cabinets, but her eyes stared at their contents unseeing, her mind wheeling backward. She turned on her heel and stalked to the first room. She tossed back the fallboard and reached her fingers to the ivory. The keys stuttered to the bed, fractionally apart beneath her fingers, and it was no more, no less than she had expected. The sound was spoiled like a meat. She slapped the fallboard down, wood on wood clapped out into the echoing house in cracking waves, and then it was gone. She turned away with the air of someone halfheartedly resigned to endure, but as she turned, she started and stopped. A wall of faces stood before her, photographs in frames armied around a blackened mantel, eyes from floor to ceiling. She studied them without stepping closer. They gazed back.

She left the room as quick as she had come, retraced her steps to the kitchen where she had spied a door that led outside. She opened it wide to the June day. From where she stood, she claimed a long view of the back property. A field of tobacco began down a slope a hundred yards from the house and a fallow field neighbored close by, its beds risen like new graves. There a black curing barn stood and from its rafters a bit of tobacco hung like browned bird wings, pinions down, too early and out of season, she could not say why. To her left another barn, this one red, with a large gated pen and a gallery on one side. The pasture was empty. The cows had all wandered up a hillside to a stand of brazen green trees and stood blackly on the fringe of its shade gazing out, their bodies in the cloaking dark but their heads shined to a high gloss like black pennies in the sunlight. Far below their unmoving faces the newer house pointed south, no larger than a doublewide, no taller, no prettier. It banked the barbed edge of the cows’ pasture. But none of this held Aloma’s gaze for more than a moment. Instead, she looked out into the distance where, because she could not will them away or otherwise erase them from the earth, the spiny ridges of the mountains stood. She laughed a laugh without humor. All her hopes, and there they were. Had they been any closer, she’d have suffered to hear them laughing back.

Excerpted from All the Living by C. E. Morgan.

Copyright © 2009 by C. E. Morgan.

Published in March 2009 by Farrar Straus & Giroux.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Reading Group Guide

The following author biography and list of questions about All the Living are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach All the Living.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 27 )
Rating Distribution

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(11)

4 Star

(10)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 27 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 10, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    ALL THE LIVING

    This is a poignant and heartfelt story. The characters are real people whose actions are a result of their limited life experience. Aloma has very little experience of love, having grown up at a mission school for orphans. She is willing to live with Orren despite his failure to ask her to marry him, and willing to uproot her life for a new one on a Kentucky farm. As time passes, she begins to realize that things aren't quite right and she doesn't know how to fix it. Orren, Aloma's lover, speaks words of happiness but has little understanding of who she is, and little understanding of what really matters to him. He is a young man determined to make a success of the tobacco farm he inherited when his mother and brother died. Aloma has a passion for music and that passion impacts her choices throughout the book. She isn't tied to the land. She has ambitions for herself and desires to escape from the tedious and lonely life there. Beautifully written internal struggles of men and women!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Read the book before the Movie comes out!

    Debut novels evoke wonder in me. Having no idea of the writing style or the proclivities of the author, beginning to read a new author is akin to finding a new restaurant or exploring a new city - one has an idea of what to expect but cannot know what will be found until one is committed to doing the work of discovery. Ms. Morgan is a resident of the town in which I live and her book has been "buzzed" about in one of my dealers' shops, electing to read it was more akin to exploring a new city - I knew the location and had an idea of how the streets ran, but had no idea of what the actual town was like until I walked those streets. I am glad to have discovered such an interesting village in this novel.
    This is a stark tale of loss, love, redemption and of finding a place when there is no starting point. Aloma, an orphan being reared by an aunt and uncle, meets Orren, a farmer, when he comes to the settlement school where she has graduated and now is the musician and music teacher. After a passionate courtship, where he would travel "across three counties and two mountains" to visit her after he completed the workday, his family is killed in an auto incident. Orren asks Aloma to "come down here," which she does. The novel is the story of how two people, so in love when there is distance between them, discover that distance is not only a measure of geography. As with all new love, each tries to sort out what the relationship means while doing (unintentional) damage to the other. This is not an easy story to read, but it is a well written, well-told one.
    Those living in Central Kentucky will recognize some of the locations hinted at within the text of this book. Those who have yet to visit this area will still recognize locations detailed in the narrative. The author has a gift for painting word pictures all can recognize, even without being familiar with the landscape. While this novel is deeply rooted in the hills of Kentucky , its story is far more expansive. Present is the desire to belong, to create something lasting, to be connected to something larger than ourselves. Those images transcend location and reflect the topography of the heart. The story is timeless and Ms. Morgan is able to capture that sense of "time-out-of-time" in that this reader knew the story was a contemporary one, then was suspicious that it occurred in a far "simpler" time, if such an era ever existed. He finished reading it with the understanding that both were true.
    Ms. Morgan's starkness, bold of language and undertones are very reminiscent of the writings of Flannery O'Connor. Ms. Morgan speaks with a voice of depth & with an understanding of Grace that is personal but could be frightening to those unused to the Passion a genuine connection of intimate depth can bring. The struggle, confusion, desires, fulfillment, disappointment, unexpected moments of delight joined to those moments of pain all speak of a walk of Faith. "All the Living" is done in relationship; in the farmer's relationship to the land and how dependent the farmer is on things he has no control over (rain), in the Pastor's relationship to the church and how he cannot not be their Pastor, of the Orphan's relationship to others and how she has no model to follow in being a family. Ms. Morgan does a superior job of showing how those connections form a life and make the living thereof full of sparkle as well rain.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 3, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A Book You Must Read

    There is almost nothing better than finding a book that draws you in and takes you to another place. I was taken in to this great read with the first sentence. I loved the characters, the land, the story. I wanted to find out how the story ended so badly that for the first time ever, I read the end, and then re-read the 40 pages I had scrolled through to get there. The writing was wonderful, thought-provoking and told a tale of another time and place, in the not so distant past, that felt a world away. Once in a while I will read a book in a day and then walk away and second guess my enthusiasm. Not this time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Loss and tested love in meager Appalachia

    I found this book on a shelf at work, and picked it up on a whim. It is amazing. It is stark yet supple, melancholy and yet sober in its portrayal of emotion, having a style that reminds me of Appalachia, the dirt-poor, mountain house, overgrown lawn Appalachia. It reminds me of working on top of a tin roof in Stearns, Kentucky, of being inside an empty white Kentucky church. The author, C.E. Morgan, a native of Berea herself, has clearly seen and felt and experienced these things, too. The way that everything in the land seems new and distinctly real and is utterly itself, not a symbol for something else. The way that a relationship can be so full of ecstasy and intimacy and yet tinged at the edges with a sense of difference and distance, and how that can ache deeply but be a good ache, and not a bad thing at all; and also the way that this can be normal to a relationship, and conversely the way that this can begin to dissipate into a growing distance which begins to question love itself. The story follows Orren and Aloma, the latter an aspiring pianist who only wants to leave the mountains, the former the son of farming parents who have recently died in a tragic accident. Orren is left to care for the family farm by himself in their rural 1980s Kentucky mountain town, and Aloma comes to help him, to be with him, but cannot seem to break through the barrier of his grief and bereavement. Finally Aloma faces a decision: to follow her inner urges and leave Orren for another man, for another place where things will be easier, or to cleave hard and fast to a man she cannot always understand and a place she will not always find bearable. The plot is deftly and heartbreakingly woven, until it ascends to its final pages, a denouement that is simple and quiet and imperfect, yet beautiful, and painfully real. One of the best works of fiction I've read in a long time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2014

    Great storytelling, hopeful she will write more.

    These two young, naive, yet world hardened people coome to learn life is larger than they think. The characters sucked you in and mmake you want more.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2013

    This is one of my favorite books of all time. I'm a transplant i

    This is one of my favorite books of all time. I'm a transplant in Eastern Kentucky and married a man with a similar situation to Orren. This book hit me deep. It's not one of those run off into the sunset unrealistic stories, it is real and true to reality. I will read this book again and suggest this to ANYONE. I had to read it for a English paper at college, but I read the entire book in one night because I couldn't put it down.

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  • Posted May 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Simple Elegance

    Reading this novel is like a dip in chocolate-covered words. A simple love story set in a harsh landscape. Two young people,tenacious and passionate; struggle for a farm and their own ambitions while reaching for each other.

    When you close this slim book, you want to congratulate yourself for not missing it.

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  • Posted October 25, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Loved This Book!

    When I saw this book on the B & N Recommended list, I was intrigued and read the reviews on it. Reading what this story was about I wasn't sure if I would like it, but I thought I would give it a try. This book definitely delivered complete satisfaction. I read it in a day and a half. I wanted to continue to follow these characters well after the story ended. It is a real and poignant story. I can't remember when I have felt so transported to another place and time. What a great debut novel from an amazing writer C.E. Morgan. I will look with anticipation for her next novel.

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