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All the Living

A young woman on a lonely farm struggles with competing desires for love and freedom in this thoughtful debut novel.

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Aloma is nobody’s idea of a farm wife. She can’t cook, milk, take care of livestock, or garden. (Also, she isn’t married.) Nor does the young musician have any interest in these chores.

But nonetheless, she finds herself trapped on a Kentucky farm within sight of the mountains she always promised herself she would escape.

Love and good intentions are what brought Aloma to the farm, as C.E. Morgan details in her thoughtful first novel, All the Living. Orphaned at three and raised since adolescence at the settlement school where she worked once she graduated, all Aloma has ever dreamed of is music school – preferably somewhere far away.

She wrecks these dreams in the time-honored tradition of teenage girls: She falls in love, with Orren, a local farm boy. And when his family is killed in an accident and he asks her to come live with him on the farm, she does.

When she arrives, Orren is changed by grief and desperation. “The tips of his eyelashes were pale as straw now, bleached from the sun so it seemed he had no eyelashes at all, nothing to impede his gaze.”

The small house she thought they would live in is sealed up as a shrine to the dead and instead she’s in charge of a tottering wreck. And the piano she was promised has been destroyed by neglect: “The sound was spoiled like a meat.”

Aloma figures out how to cook and clean, but even living in the same house, she feels separated from Orren, who is working nonstop to save the family farm in a drought that has turned the dirt “pale as cocoa powder.”


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