All the Living

All the Living

by C. E. Morgan

Paperback(First Edition)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312429324
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 02/02/2010
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 554,887
Product dimensions: 5.38(w) x 8.18(h) x 0.56(d)

About 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.

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.


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,


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.

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.

1. Discuss the novel's title and epigraph. What truths about hope and mortality are captured in this passage from Ecclesiastes? How does this passage relate to love?

2. How are Orren and Aloma defined by tragedy? How is Aloma affected by the many voids in her past? How is Orren affected by constant immersion in traces of his past?

3. What does sex mean to Orren and Aloma? Is their mutual attraction sparked by a physical hunger, or an emotional hunger? How does this shift throughout the novel?

4. What does Orren think of the two houses on his property? What aspects of himself are represented by each one?

5. How do power and money shape Aloma's role in this relationship, and in many relationships, regardless of wealth or poverty? Does Orren want Aloma to be financially dependent on him?

6. Though All the Living unfolds in the 1980s, many members of this community hold fast to old-fashioned attitudes. What are the costs and benefits of living in a locale that is removed, in some ways, from the modern world?

7. How did your understanding of the characters' circumstances change as you read All the Living, based on what was revealed and withheld in the opening scenes? Were your first impressions of Aloma and Orren accurate?

8. Discuss the role of religion in the characters' lives. Is Bell an unconventional preacher? Do he and Aloma share any common ground in their perception of God?

9. Why does music have such a powerful effect on Aloma? How is she transformed, even healed, by playing the piano? Do any of the novel's other characters fully understand what music means to her?

10. How is Orren affected by the reminders of his family that remain on the farm? Is it healthy for him to feel so determined to make the farm successful?

11. How do Orren's memories of his mother influence his expectations of Aloma? How does Bell's mother influence his sense of self?

12. What is special about the novel's backdrop of pure nature? What aspects of this landscape, and the livestock's cycles of birth and death, become characters in themselves?

13. In what ways do Orren and Aloma share similar temperaments? In what ways are they fundamentally different?

14. Would you have left Orren for Bell?

15. In the closing scenes, Orren commands Aloma to remain faithful to him. What insecurities lie beneath his jealousy? What role do jealousy and insecurity play in most relationships?

16. As Orren led Aloma up to the old house on the novel's last page, what did you predict for their future?

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All the Living 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
YoyoMitch More than 1 year ago
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.
poosie More than 1 year ago
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!
voraciousreaderIL More than 1 year ago
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.
MLucero More than 1 year ago
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.
markfinl on LibraryThing 3 days ago
I really wanted this book to be better, especially after I had read comparisons to Marilynne Robinson on Goodreads. Don't believe it. This book is all surface, there is none of the psychological depth that there is in Robinson's work. It's a simple story, simply told, more Elizabeth Berg than Marilynne Robinson.
briantomlin on LibraryThing 3 days ago
A young woman from poverty in the rural south goes to live with her lover on his farm after his entire family is killed in an accident. A story rich with details of people acting, living and thinking by themselves and yet forced to relate to one another. Much has been made about this being C.E. Morgan's first novel, and rightly so, because their is a depth of feeling, a wealth of human experience captured just so in the language. The author has a special gift for crafting a story; she reveals the exposition cautiously but with just the right intriguing pace. She doesn't overstate, she lets the images do much of the work in telling the story.One of those recurring images is sex, presenting here in a raw form. Aloma and Orren's sexual relationship shows the powerful human need for sex and also the ways sex can be used as a tool. It is refreshing to see a female character honestly, directly face her sexual nature, but it comes off as sort of passively accepting what he world brings instead of taking ownership of the experience. The choices the characters make, not just sexually, affect not only themselves but others, and yet the characters seem so often pulled along by fate. As beautifully written as the book is, it is a heartbreaking tale of people who do not know how to relate to one another. Aloma, the lead female character, blindly accepts conventional female roles, puts her own dreams of accomplishment last, and seems to value her partner primarily through sex. It sin't that this isn't realistically portrayed, but that it is profoundly sad. Again, though, it is a magnificently constructed novel in that it shows this sadness, these situations the characters are in, and it doesn't try to judge or make tidy solutions. The reader can think about the story, and this is one story that promises to stay with the reader long after the book has been put down.
Vidalia on LibraryThing 3 days ago
Timeless - If it weren't for the farm trucks and photographs on the wall, the story could take place in any time period. It's as if time is suspended as the author focuses on place and human relationships. Brilliantly written and absorbing.
writergirl on LibraryThing 3 days ago
Packs an emotional punch in a short space. Morgan's writing sounds like this could have been written in another era, but it is still very readable. The story of a young couple living on a remote tobacco farm - one trying for happiness and the other for survival - is a story that will leave you thinking about it long after the last page is read.
bruchu on LibraryThing 3 days ago
A Timeless Gem I just finished C.E. Morgan's "All The Living" and I must say that I really enjoyed it. Morgan beautifully captures rural life and as a reader you really feel the tension between the characters she creates. While I was reading, the writing kept reminding me of Robert James Waller's "Bridges of Madison County" -- Morgan is able to describe great complexity through simplistic imagery.If you are looking for a short afternoon read, I definitely recommend "All The Living" -- just a wonderfully written novel that was very enjoyable to read.
shanjan on LibraryThing 3 days ago
I have never been to tobacco farm in rural Kentucky, but after reading All the Living by C.E. Morgan I felt the dust on my skin and watched the plants grow and prayed for rain with the Orren and Aloma, the two main characters whose struggles with love, death and the land are beautifully intertwined.Morgan breathes life into the setting of this novel with vivid details and beautiful language. Her characters are complex and sympathetic. Morgan's carefully chosen words make her characters alive and bring the reader into their hearts, especially Aloma from whose point of view the story is narrated.A gifted piano player, Aloma finds herself moving to a rural farm after an brief but intense love affair with Orren, the farm's owner. Aloma finds herself vying with the ghosts of Orren's mother and brother for Orren's attention. She also finds herself grappling with her own conscience as she begins to fall in love with the Bell, town's preacher who she meets when she gets a job as the church piano player.While Aloma embraces the living, shown through her ability to deal with her own tragic past and her love of music, which is by no coincidence strongly connected to Bell, Orren embraces the dead, choosing to live in a falling down farm house, while keeping a newer home as a shrine to his mother and brother who were killed in a car accident. Orren's struggle to keep his family farm parallels his internal struggle as he grieves for his family. He eventually must chose between the dead, his family, and the living, Aloma.Much as a beautifully composed piece of music, Morgan unwinds her tale at a measured pace, which wraps back to its refrain at several points before the masterfully crafted exposition. Every element of this novel is thoughtful and well considered. Take, for example, her use of well chosen names; Bell draws to mind clarity and has musical qualities, Aloma means dove, and Orren a.k.a. Orpheus, a character from Greek mythology considered to be strongly connected with poetry and music and, here's the clincher, one of only a few Greek heros ever to return from the underworld. Symbols are flawlessly embedded into the story and along with all other aspects of the novel contribute to the feeling that this piece of writing was deftly honed to the smallest detail. This is a short novel, but by no means a small novel. The plot, characters, literary conventions and language are the product of a adroit writer, but what makes this novel all the more impressive is that it is Morgan's fist novel. It would make an excellent choice for a book group discussion or for anyone who enjoys good literature. I would highly recommend this book and am anxiously awaiting Morgan's next novel!
Quiltinfun06 on LibraryThing 4 days ago
All the Living by C. E. Morgan is a book about raw feelings of love and being alone. The characters Orren and Aloma are held together by a fierce sexual relationship that they believe to be love.Orren has just inherited the family tobacco farm after the death of his family. As the sole survivor he is driven to continue the farming even though he is ill prepared for it.Aloma is an orphan that has graduated from the mission school with the ability to place piano. She dreams of this skill becoming her vehicle out of the mountains.As they both struggle with being "alone" they become involved in the search of finding love and happiness. Is this possible for either of them and will their relationship survive strife and turmoil.I believe All the Living would make for a great book discussion for book clubs. I am happy to have read it.
ccayne on LibraryThing 4 days ago
Beautifully written unusual story of an orphaned girl, Alomoa, who goes to college in rural Kentucky, learns to play piano, meets Orren a young man who inherits a tobacco farm after his mother and brother are killed in an accident. Eventually she moves there and it tests her and their bond. She feels lost, he's so focussed on keeping the farm afloat and they come together in bed and not much of anywhere else. What saves her is her chance to play piano in a church run by a man she becomes infatuated with. Aloma is struggling to find her place; she doesn't know how to do it or how to relate to people - as an orphan she never had an example of how family treats one another. She doesn't seem to understand the expectations and responsibilities towards people who are close to her and for whom she has feelings - i wouldn't call it love. Morgan tells the story patiently and well.
txwildflower on LibraryThing 4 days ago
Written in an unusual form this book has depth in beauty, wildlife, and the mountains of Kentucky. A young girl in her twenties goes to live with her boyfriend on an isolated farm he has inherited after his family is killed in a car accident. Her one passion is playing the piano and she finds peace and solace in the one at the church. A moving story and one you will enjoy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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