This month, we’re going to a deep and dark recess of rural Kentucky.
The author is C.E. Morgan, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School who studied at Berea College and has won numerous honors. The book, All the Living, is Morgan’s first novel and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway First Fiction Book Award. Morgan was also included on The New Yorker’s famous “20 under 40” list of America’s best young writers in 2010.
All the Living is unlike any of the books we’ve read this fall. It’s not about a large cast of characters. It doesn’t have any pretensions about commenting on the political world. And it has nothing to do with the life of cities. Instead, it deeply examines the life of a man and woman whose lives are bent and shaped by the grudging patch of earth they live on.
The story is spare and rich, simple and elegant, restrained and transcendent at the same time.
Here are study questions we will be exploring on Thursday, Dec. 12, 7 p.m.:
- The outside world rarely intrudes on the insular setting of All the Living. Do we even know when the novel takes place? Why would Morgan avoid telling us?
- Does Aloma’s mission education give her the tools to transcend her world, or does it compel her to frustration in a place she can never escape?
- The epigraph from Ecclesiastes says “a living dog is better than a dead lion.” In what ways is All the Living thick with Biblical echoes?
- What is the relationship between the people and the land in Morgan’s novel? Does the land own them outright?
- Much of All the Living revolves around what people have lost—and the legacy they inherit. What is Aloma’s loss, and how does it differ from Orren’s?
- How does the style of Morgan’s novel reflect the setting in which the story takes place? How does her writing differ from that of previous books in our series?
- Are the characters of All the Living “American vagrants”? Are their lives completely different than the vagrants we met in Yiyun Li?
- Does Bell Johnson upbraid Aloma because she lied to him, or because she refused him? Why does he agree to preside over her wedding?
- When is the first time that Orren shows compassion? What causes it? Is it likely to endure?
- What does the tree with the carving mean to Orren at the end? How does it differ from all the other memories he has of his family?
Here a few hyperlinks to learn more about C.E. Morgan and her work:
- A Review of 'All the Living'
- An Interview of Morgan about writing the novel
- A Brief interview of Morgan in The New Yorker
- NPR Interview with Morgan
- A further detailed review of the novel
Copies of the book should be available at the library.
Thanks to the Friends of Cleveland Park Library, we're engaged in another lively and intelligent series of book discussions. Everyone is welcome -- you don’t have to be a member of the Friends to attend. And you’re welcome even if you haven’t come before.
So please join us.