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Book Reviews   |    
All the Living

All the Living
by by C. E. Morgan. , New York, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010, 208 pages, $14

Reviewed by Jeanne Steiner, D.O.
Psychiatric Services 2011; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.000621521
View Author and Article Information

The reviewer reports no competing interests.

Dr. Steiner is with the Department of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.

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Aloma and Orren meet as young adults and begin living together as a couple without having the benefit of knowing much about one another. Their lives have been filled with loss and great sorrow; Orren's immediate family has just died, and Aloma's passed long ago. The setting for their new relationship is a tobacco farm in the South—perhaps Kentucky—where the land is beautiful but living off it is rough. The harsh reality of farming and the challenges of relating to one another are simple plot lines, but the narrative is rich, lyrical, immensely engaging, and ultimately optimistic.

The author, C. E. Morgan, was chosen by the New Yorker in 2010 as one of the 20 best writers under the age of 40, a list that includes many luminaries and some whose fame awaits. She holds a master's degree in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School, and her knowledge of scripture and the role of the church in the life of a small community is evident. What is more surprising, though, is her astute understanding and portrayal of grief and the ways in which both recent and distant loss can become rooted and interwoven within a relationship.

“‘The thing is, I only want …,’ he said, but then his sentence closed down unfinished. He grimaced out at the fields and she saw the deep elevens etched between his eyes, eyes that were the color of the sky and just as distant. He looked to her like a thing seized, as if all his old self had been suckered up from his body proper and forced into the small, staring space of this eyes. She did not like these new blinkless eyes of his and she did not like the way his words all collapsed in this new way of talking. As if his tongue could not bear the weight of words any longer. Or the person beside him were not there.”

This young couple grapples with significant and not uncommon issues of financial insecurity, temptation, psychological trauma, and uncertainty about their choice to be together, but these events and burdens are illustrated with precision and subtlety in an enchanting style of prose. The relationships portrayed in this beautiful novel not only ring true but also provide a deeply satisfying portrait of several characters as they grow and change over time. I would recommend it highly to the readers of Psychiatric Services and to our friends and families.

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