The Living: A Novel

The Living: A Novel➵ The Living: A Novel Read ➼ Author Annie Dillard – Bluevapours.co.uk Ninety miles north of Seattle on the Washington coast lies Bellingham Bay, where a rough settlement founded in the s would become the town of Whatcom Here, the Lummi and Nooksack Indian people fish an Ninety miles north of Seattle on the Washington coast lies Bellingham Bay, where a rough settlement founded in the s would become the town of Whatcom Here, the Lummi and Nooksack Indian people fish and farm, hermits pay their debts in sockeye salmon, and miners track goldbearing streamsHere, too, is the intimate, murderous tale of three men Clare Fishburn believes that greatness lies in store for him John Ireland Sharp, an educated orphan, abandons hope when he sees socialists expel the Chinese workers from the region Beal Obenchain, who lives in a The Living: Kindle - cedar stump, threatens Clare Fishburn's lifeA killer lashes a Chinese worker to a wharf piling at low tide Settlers pour in to catch the boom the railroads bring People give birth, drown, burn, inherit rich legacies, and commit expensive larcenies All this takes place a hundred years ago, when these vital, ruddy men and women were ''the living''.

Annie Dillard born April , is an American author, best known for her narrative prose in both fiction and non fiction She has published works of poetry, essays, prose, and literary criticism, as well as two novels and one memoir Her work Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction Dillard taught for years in the English department of Wesleyan Unive.

The Living: A Novel MOBI Ö The Living:  Kindle -
  • Paperback
  • 464 pages
  • The Living: A Novel
  • Annie Dillard
  • English
  • 10 May 2018
  • 9780060924119

10 thoughts on “The Living: A Novel

  1. Jesse says:

    There are many fine sentences in this book. The plot is perfectly laid. The characters are well-drawn and the themes are profound. Nevertheless, there is something wrong with this book. It is possible that the author does not love her characters. Or maybe it is that she doesn't love the place, the northwest. It doesn't surprise me that she left the northwest after 5 years and moved back east. I think she doesn't understand what we, and those who lived here before us, really love here on Puget Sound. At any rate, the book is almost boring in its splendor. Its metaphors are as thick and lightless as a dark stand of 200' Doug firs in the Cascade foothills.

    On the other hand, To feel time beating you senseless - that was the great thing, to feel time beating you off the beaten track and down to the beaches, where the tide sucked at the bluffs and the guillemots dived in the surges - that was the great thing.

    Like I said, there are many fine sentences in this book.

  2. Yorgos says:

    On its surface, The Living is the story of the settling of the American Northwest, told through the eyes of early settlers in Bellingham bay in Washington. It is an epic, intergenerational account of hardship, boom and bust, the destruction of Native American populations, the felling of the old growth forest, the building of the railroads and successive gold rushes. It's more than that, and deeper. Like her nonfiction, it's a meditation on what makes life worth living, on the unpredictability and ineffability of death and suffering and on the meaning of our fleeting lives in between. The story follows multiple families, the Fishburns, the Sharps, the Randalls, and the Obenchains, but it turns on the life of Clare Fishburn, whom we meet as the son of early settlers and who later is confronted with the knowledge of his own inevitable and proximal death. How he responds and lives his life, knowing he will die, adds meaning and color to every other story and character in the book.

    No one I've read one can write like Annie Dillard. Every sentence is perfect and utile: where she wants to be beautiful and devastating, she is; where she wants to introduce us to a person, in a sentence they are whole; and where she moves the action along she does so deftly and deliberately. She wields symbols like Melville: Beal Obenchain is simultaneously a tragic, piteable person, death incarnate, and pure, raging and impotent willpower; a tree is a tree and a crab is a crab, except when they are something more; Hugh Honer is a boy and a man, and all of us, and also the holy watcher, witness to death. She manages to be profound without succumbing to sentimentality, and to entertain with asides and with stories beside the story. I have not read all of Annie Dillards work, and had previously associated her with non-fiction only; I see her in a new light now, and this is my favorite book of hers.

  3. Donna Davis says:

    When I got home from my annual pilgrimage to Powell's City of Books, I looked over my treasures. Those that had been on my wish list got read first. Now I am down to the books I bought because a Powell's employee liked them, or from impulse (rare). I also sometimes buy a book if it has won awards and is in a subject area of interest to me.

    This book made me wince when I saw I had paid 75% of the original price. It did not look promising.Stained, or fly-specked around the edges; pages yellowing and about to fall out. What had I done?

    On the surface, it is historical fiction about the development of Bellingham, WA. A snore (unless you live there MAYBE), right? But then, why was it a New York Times best seller, if it was a waste?
    Flip to the author page...Guggenheim Foundation grant, National Endowment for the Arts, Washington Governor's Award...okay, okay, I would read it!

    The story was praised by others as epic, and it is true. The characterization and plot are first-rate. There are many families whose lives are followed, and yet, even with sleeping pills under my belt (metaphor; I don't sleep wearing a belt), I kept track of them all and even more, felt as if I knew them. The writer was true to her characters, and there was nothing formulaic or tossed in as filler to meet a deadline. It was s story about PEOPLE who were shaped by their environment. Some of it filled me with joy, and other parts broke my heart. I was sorry to reach the last page, even though this was a long, leisurely read.

    The page numbers are deceptive. It clocks in under 400 pages, but in trade paperback size, it packs a whole lot of words onto each page. (Think small type, slim margins).

    This is not a book to be rushed through. Once you are hooked--and if you enjoy historical fiction, or even strong, well built, dynamic characters (and multiple characters are dynamic here!), this is good read by a cozy fire. Buy it for yourself this winter, or get it for a friend.

    As for me: I learned that this was only her FIRST novel, and she won the Pulitzer for a nonfiction book (The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek) that is going on my wish list. Gee, I hope Santa is good to me this year. There are so many amazing books out there, and I can't wait to read more by Dillard!

  4. Diane says:

    Whew... this was much more about the dying than about the living. I picked this up because it was about the settling of the Puget Sound area and I'll be vacationing there soon. I thought I might get some insight into the history of the Northwest. It IS informative in a Michener sort of way. There is a lot of effective descriptive writing about the moody beauty of this coast My friends tease me about liking stark, spare, dark novels but this was VERY stark. You just get interested in a character and he dies. You start to get attached to a locale and the setting shifts. Still, it was a terrifically written novel. But I'm exhausted from it.

  5. Larry Bassett says:

    I am a fan of Annie Dillard. I first read A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek when I was a teenager and could still remember those earlier days when I spent time out in the wilds. Today it is the suburbs but back in the 1950s there were still fields and streams. But this book, The Living: A Novel, is a trip into the unknown for me. But, it turns out, a very enjoyable trip.

    The name of the author and the cover with a rustic homestead first attracted me to this book and GR BookSwap made it available to me at very little cost. But it turns out that this book is about the Pacific Northwest. Now I know people who live there love that part of the country. But my experience is limited to deciding to get married while on a trip to Portland. That was twenty years ago and I have never gone back since then.

    There are some emotional strings to that region for me. Thirty-some years ago in a bit of family intrigue my favorite cousin Bill ran away with the family babysitter to Oregon. There is Jean who moved to Bellingham with a small piece of my heart. A special stepson moved out of my life via the northwest. And I made that matrimonial decision in that neck of the woods. So I associate family and romance with the area.

    This is what I know about the book as I start out, courtesy of amazon.com :

    This New York Times bestselling novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard is a mesmerizing evocation of life in the Pacific Northwest during the last decades of the 19th century.


    Not much to go on, the name Annie Dillard and a rustic homestead on the front cover.

    One of the first things I noticed about this book was that its chapters are in Roman Numerals. The last one is “Chapter LXXV.” If you don’t remember, L stands for 50. So The Living has seventy-five modestly sized chapters. More or less, V pages average per chapter. That’s a right good size for readers that like to rest regularly. But this book became less and less easy to put down as I got into it; I almost always wanted to keep reading at the end of each chapter in the last half of the book.

    The book jumps right into reminding us that it is the tough pioneer days: in the opening pages a baby falls out of a covered wagon and is crushed by the wagon wheel. Thomas Hobbes reminds us that life is nasty, brutish and short, something you didn’t need to remind the early settlers of the Bellingham Bay. Many of those settlers were distressed to find they were too far north to grow corn. But death was easy to find and part of the scenery. We also see examples of frontier justice, the continuity of human spirit as well as resilience and determination in the face of tragedy and deprivation.

    Published in 1992, the book has managed the years well. It doesn’t suffer from being twenty years old. Of course, it is historical fiction and the 19th Century is still the 19th Century whether you are reading it in 1992 or 2012.

    The Living has the hallmarks of legend: some exaggeration, some sly humor, some heroics.

    They walked in the swift river itself for the first mile or so upstream. The Skagits dreaded the snarled forest, and found the going easier in the rivers, and even up in the mountains’ snows. The horses had entered the waters readily, which pleased Grogan; he would have preferred mules if they could have afforded mules, he said, but mules would have dished this stage of the journey, as they purely misliked wetting their feet. He had seen a man shoot a pack mule dead, at the edge of a ford, simply to win the argument for the side of reason. The man had to carry his own gear, his itkus, in the mountains for a week, but never repented.
    John Ireland agreed with the mule. That time of year, in August, the river was chalky with glacial melt, and as cold as water could run. John Ireland splashed ahead of his grandfather, numb as iron from the waterline down.


    I have seen the movies where the lives of three or four individuals in different circumstances or locations intersect with each other. The Living has seven stories that overlap. The characters and the years intermingle. We see the lives of some characters from birth to death; sometimes that is not very many years since deaths, often by tragedy, are a regular part of the stories. We see some events from the point of view of more than one person. We see characters interact as marriages, fires, moves, tragedies, jobs, fates and fortune change lives over time or overnight.

    Can you feel nostalgia for a place you’ve never been and a time you’ve never lived? Annie Dillard has taken me to a new place, the Pacific Northwest, and a new time, the last half of the 19th century. I want to thank her for that. I have read eighteen books on my historical fiction shelf. There are five more on that shelf at the moment to be read. I think I should raise those books up on my priority list.

    What is a lesson of The Living? There are many but one is as simple as “the tides come in and the tides go out.” It ends with another:

    The heavy rope pulled at him. He carried it to the platform edge. He hitched up on the knot and launched out. As he swung through the air, trembling, he saw the blackness give way below, like a parting of clouds, to a deep patch of stars on the ground. It was the pond, he hoped, the hole in the woods reflecting the sky. He judged the instant and let go; he flung himself loose into the stars.


    The Living is easily a four star book for me. Maybe even four and one-half stars. Today I ordered several more used books by Annie Dillard online from Alibris. I’m hooked!

  6. Heather says:

    This book got into my skin like the good pioneer dirt and the deathsong of burning redwoods. I think Annie Dillard is my new favorite. I loved the epic sweep of this novel; every character became as irritating and loveable as my own household mates, every animal and being took my breath away with his or her particular awareness and being. I am inpsired to research, to write, to learn, to think, to breathe, to climb, to swim, to drown in the waters of life and literature.

  7. Matt Dean says:

    This book is beautifully written. The prose is as fine and as lovely as anything I've ever read. The book is majestic and magisterial, as formidable as the densely forested lands that the characters strive to master and tame.

    And yet, well, put it this way: one character is said to have written a three-hundred page epic poem in which men battle polar bears and pack ice; although the poet is a rank amateur, I wish I could have read his no-doubt-inept poem rather than this finely wrought novel.

    I was profoundly unmoved. I barely cared whether the characters lived or died. I had a glimmer of interest in a sort of antisocial, woodsy Nietzschean named Beal Obenchain, but for him as well as for the rest, I felt very little emotion.

    After a couple of hundred pages, I began to understand why this is so: the characters are almost always alone and lost in thought. Even when two characters are together, they are mostly caught up in their own separate thoughts. Much of the talk is summarized, rather than quoted. The quoted talk is generally trivial; the summarized talk is generally momentous. Time and again, we sit in a room with an introspective character as he or she thinks back on some horrific or exciting event, and prefer that we could witness the event, rather than read a summation of the character's reflection upon the event.

    If Dillard had set out to blunt the emotional impact of her own novel, she couldn't have chosen better ways of doing so.

    Of course, I don't mean to suggest that it's all introspection. A scene that takes place on a logjam that's just about to break up, for example, is powerfully dramatic—but there, too, we are told before the scene even begins that a major character will die in it.

    Another scene, depicting the ugly behavior of a xenophobic mob, is unequivocally compelling in the way it depicts the inhuman way people treat one another. The chapters surrounding that scene could make a whole book, if they were fleshed out and expanded. Instead, that passage feels oddly extraneous, as if Dillard had been loath to waste any research material.

    I feel as if I'm taking more care in avoiding spoilers than Dillard herself. An example: when I say that Beal Obenchain kills a man in Whatcom just to watch him die, it sounds as if it should probably be a spoiler—but it's not. We're told he's going to do it, and then we watch him do it. By the time this happens, so much has happened, so little of it apparently of any import, that I couldn't tell whether or not this murder was even significant.

    Now, having finished the book, I'd say, eh, probably not. It's just something that happened, followed (a couple of hundred pages later) by something else that happened as a consequence. I'm still trying to avoid spoilers, here, though there's hardly any need. There are no surprises or twists in this subplot.

    A minor technical point. DIllard's handling of point of view is, at times, jarring. It's a little unusual, these days, to read fiction in which the POV changes from character to character within a scene. Writers of old used to do that sort of thing all the time—it's a matter of fashion, rather than of statute—but when I come across it writers' groups and workshops, I usually regard it as a mistake. It usually is a mistake. The Living is an epic set in the late 1800s, so it seemed somewhat fitting.

    But then there's something like this:

    The skin on her face looked soft as a blossom, spotted, and her black eyes squinting out seemed glossy and hard. She was watching her granddaughter Vinnie souse the plates with curly-haired Hugh Honer in the sea. The boy had hardened up considerable since the bad summer when everybody died on him and he seemed ready to curl up his own self.... [T:]hough she herself favored responsible young fellows with a mite more foolery in them, that kind seemed hard to find.


    It's a minor thing, as I said, but it bugs me: We are given details of the character's appearance—of her face, which she cannot see— and then within the same paragraph we are privy to her thoughts, in her vernacular (the italicized portions). I'm not especially fond of the god's-eye-view sort of third-person narration Dillard employs throughout the book, but I'm particularly annoyed by this mixture of close and distant third-person.

    This is the first substantial piece of Dillard's writing that I've ever read. She's been on my list for a very long time, though. In college, a friend of mine love-love-loved Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I have fond memories of reading and rereading an essay in an old Writer's Market, in which Dillard recommended fearlessness in writing and revising. If a story is like a house, let's say, sometimes you need to reconfigure the floor plan. Sometimes a wall needs to come down. You go at it with a sledgehammer and hope it's not a bearing wall. Sometimes it is a bearing wall, but it needs to come down anyway. Duck.

    I am sorry to say, The Living either has altogether too many bearing walls, or none. I dearly wanted to love this novel, but I didn't. Not at all.

  8. Nicole says:


    I picked up this book after seeing that Dillard had written a review of the book I had just finished reading--John Mathiessen's Shadow County, a book that is an intense, complex, and thoroughly satisfying read. I was about a third of the way through The Living and realized something was bothering me. It wasn't the quality of the writing. Dillard writes beautifully and eloquently and the story she tells is compelling, but there is a detachment from the characters that prevents the reader from becoming thoroughly engaged in the narrative. The bottom line is that I just didn't care about any of the characters; I didn't feel invested in them in any way. It's good storytelling but storytelling that does not get under your skin. I heard Joyce Carol Oates speak a few years ago about how she has tried to include more dialogue (and less description) in her novels. This book has very little dialogue which I think contributes to how distanced one feels as a reader. It's the antithesis of someone like Cormac McCarthy whose dialogue reels you in and twists your heart or Harriet Simpson Arnow (The Dollmaker) whose pitch-perfect characters haunt you days after finishing one of her novels. I was hoping for a heart-wrenching, gut-churning novel but after a few chapters was left feeling a bit empty. Maybe I will pick the book up again sometime in the future and give it a second chance. Maybe.

  9. Harold Titus says:

    “The Living” by Annie Dillard portrays the numerous hardships and the strengths and weaknesses of character of the original white settlers and their immediate descendents in the northwest corner of Washington State during the last half of the Nineteenth Century. Her novel begins in the fall of 1855 with the arrival of a fictitious pioneer family, the Fishburns, and ends in July 1897 with a celebratory gathering of second and third generation friends that include a Fishburn son and granddaughter. It is a historical novel that informs us, that engages us with its interesting characters, and that tests our patience.

    The novel’s authenticity is one of its strengths. It is evident throughout that Annie Dillard knows her subject matter. One example is how early settlers felled huge Douglas fir. The fastest way was to use fire. They would augur one foot long holes downward into the massive tree trunks. They would then bore holes laterally to connect with the downward-angled holes. Next, they would insert burning sticks into the downward holes, the lateral holes to serve as a draft for smoke to escape. The next day “deep inside, the fired trees were burning. Weak yellow flames curled low from their trunks.” The following day “the trees started to fall, one after the other, and shook the earth so the house jumped. … The house rose, and everything in it rose, too … Shreds of cast green lichens, like bits of beard, blew into the house, with twigs, bark, sawdust, and plain dust. … The charred stumps kept burning. … The fir roots were so pitchy that a man could burn them right in the ground.” Not once did I doubt the novel’s setting or historical accuracy.

    We who have lived life into our senior years know well what human existence is about. We are brought into this world without our consent, as children we are taught (or not taught) how to survive, if fortunate we live to adulthood, we procreate, and we survive until we don’t. The quality of our existence is more often determined by factors beyond our control -- governmental decisions, economic forces, groups of people, individuals, chance -- than by our force of will. We, nobody else, determine our lives’ value. This appears to be the central theme of the novel. I appreciated how Dillard’s characters grappled with difficult burdens, endured unexpected tragedy, and strived to ascribe meaning to their lives. “The Living” is a dark story that offers little optimism that man will ever ascend beyond his baser elements. Strive as we may to make better the lives of our family members, friends, and neighbors, stronger forces ultimately restrict if not defeat our brave efforts and force us eventually to live safe lives of avoidance of that which may be harmful. I prized this aspect of the novel.

    The main characters were well developed and, at times, intriguing.

    Ada Fishburn loses her three-year-old son Charley on the wagon trail west. Standing by the front passenger barrier of his parents’ wagon, he topples over. “… their own wheels ran him over, one big wheel after the other, and he burst inwardly and died.” She and her husband Rooney carve out a plot of land amidst the enormous, ever-present firs. Six years after their arrival from Illinois, their four-year-old daughter Lettie dies of an ear infection. Eleven years later Rooney, digging a well, releases a stream of poisonous gas and instantly succumbs. Ada’s second husband dies accidentally three years later. She reaches old age, a good woman in every respect. “The more time God granted her on this earth,” she reflects near the end of her life, “the more she saw it rain, but He mustn’t think she wasn’t grateful, because she was grateful – only if He was giving out time, why not pass some to people who needed it?”

    Ada’s son Clare learns the ways of existence in and outside the local towns of Whatcom and Goshen, survives childhood, and becomes a somewhat shallow-minded but helpful, generous adult. An event occurs after he has married and fathered a daughter that causes him to anticipate sudden death. Previously caught up in a land development boom, having accepted the prevailing attitude that life’s prime purpose is to acquire wealth, Clare is forced to contemplate what is most important about life.

    In 1879, thirteen-year-old John Ireland Sharp participates in an expedition led by his grandfather up the Skagit River into the mountains to seek a pass through which a transcontinental railroad might be built to reach the Pacific shores. The party comes upon a dying Indian youth impaled on a pointed stake embedded in the ground. John Ireland is shaken by the experience. Two years later, hard times having come to the Whatcom area, the boy’s father moves his large family to Madrone Island, of the San Juan Islands in Rosario Strait. Soon after their arrival John Ireland is severely beaten by Beal Obenchain, a large-sized local boy. Two of John’s ribs are broken. He recovers. The bully’s lies about the cause of the beating are believed; he is not punished. The family ekes out a primitive existence. One day John Ireland remains on shore while his parents and brothers and sisters board their skiff to go to Orcas Island to see a man who sells tulip bulbs. The sky has the look of rain. Hours later Beal Obenchain’s father spies the skiff adrift, empty. All of John Ireland’s family is lost. He carries with him over the succeeding years this thought: “the people you knew were above water one minute, and under it the next, as if they had burst through ice. They went down stiff and upright in their filled gum boots and soaked skirts; they stood dead on the bottom and swayed with the currents like fixed kelp, his mother and father and sisters and brothers standing in a row on the ocean floor.” John is adopted by the Obenchains, kind people, notwithstanding Beal. Eventually, John leaves the island, grows into manhood, and embraces socialist principles.

    Beal Obenchain is psychotic. He is driven by an overpowering sense of unworthiness. To stave off episodes of psychological impotence he commits violent acts, receiving from them sufficient energy temporarily to face everyday that which diminishes him. At various places throughout the book we witness his cruel acts; and we yearn to see his come-uppance.

    1874, Baltimore, Maryland. Minta Randall, daughter of U.S. Senator Green Randall, marries Eustace Honer, a young man of nearly equal social standing but afflicted by impractical dreams of engaging in adventurous enterprises. Minta, who is physically unattractive, forces her reluctant parents to consent to this marriage, Eustace deemed by them and the parents of other eligible debutantes to be an undesirable match. Scorning the stilted life of wealth and privilege, their imagination fired by brochures extolling the virtues of Puget Sound, Minta and Eustace move to Goshen and buy property (320 acres) next to Ada Fishburn and her adult son Clare. Minta and Eustace adapt well to their demanding environment. Despite their wealth, they are accepted by the local inhabitants. They produce children.

    Eleven years after their marriage, in 1885, the local community decides to clear a huge log jam on the Nooksack River. “The jam was three quarters of a mile long – a city of trees and logs … It had been there as long as anyone … could remember. A forest straddled the river on top of the jam. Fifteen or twenty feet above the waterline, Douglas firs and silver firs with trunks four feet thick were growing a hundred feet high from soil trapped in the smashed mess of logs. Birds nested in the trees.” It takes three months to clear the jam. Near the end of the work Eustace slips on a log and falls into the water. Its current takes him under a layer of logs. He drowns. His nine-year-old son Hugh witnesses it.

    Minta is devastated. Her parents travel to the Northwest to console her. On the evening of their arrival by steamboat, Minta prepares to meet them at the Goshen dock. Hugh builds a fire in the fireplace to warm the house. She and Hugh travel by coach to the dock. Minta’s two younger children are left at home to sleep. The fire that Hugh has built consumes the house, and his siblings within. Minta is reduced almost to a catatonic state. Ada Fishburn tells her, finally: “Hugh has not been going to school, and when he’s here you don’t see him, bless his heart, and with the help of God you must stir yourself. For you have a child still living.” Minta must contend both with her loss and, again, with her parents’ objectionable wishes. Move back to Baltimore, they say. There is a suitable man you once expressed love for. He has not married.

    Three years later Hugh discovers Ada’s second husband dead of a broken neck, the result of a riding accident suffered while traveling during a rainstorm. It seems to Hugh that he is predestined to continue to witness death. Watching a community celebration of the launching of a locally built racing yacht when he is seventeen, recognizing that he is damaged, he reflects: “People seemed so joyous tonight, yet it was the same world it ever was, and they all had forgotten. When a baby is born its fuse lights. The ticking begins, and the fire starts fizzing down its length.” He has fallen in love with Ada Fishburn’s granddaughter Vinnie. Greatly influenced by what has happened to him, he must make a decision.

    These characters kindled my emotions. Their fates mattered to me. Yet it took me two months to read this book, mostly because of what I will call thick narration. Part of the narration’s “thickness” is due to the author’s considerable use of description, most of which, unlike the passage below, is not sharply visual.

    He saw that darkness was spreading from the land. In the dark, five or six bonfires were going. People sat lighted by flames, and from a distance the live sparks that rose over the fire seemed to emanate from the people; the yellow sparks turned red and, as they met the darkness, went out.

    Part of the “thickness” is due also to the author’s too frequent explication of abstract thoughts.

    Marriage began to strike him as a theater, where actors gratefully dissimulate, in ordinary affection and trust, their bottom feeling, which is a mystery too powerful to be endured. They know and feel more than life in time can match; they must anchor themselves against eternity, as they play on a painted set, lest they swing out into the twining realms.

    Also bothersome to me was that the main characters’ story-lines moved slowly. For example, it took seemingly forever for Beal Obenchain’s fate to be revealed. Deleting much of the information provided about unimportant characters would have quickened the novel’s pace.

    But then I would come upon an excellently narrated scene like this:

    In every corner of their big house she stumbled into Eustace’s precisely shaped absence, and in the yard, the woods, the fields, garden, and barn. She carried herself carefully, like a scalding bowl – plain Minta, whose neck sloped straight from her linen collar, whose clear forehead and high brows stayed fixed. By herself and for herself, she tried to be splendid. Only secretly, as she tended the quarreling younger children and worked the ranch, did she whisper to herself deep in her mind, “I am dished.” For where, exactly, had he gone, and the intensity of his ways?

    “The Living” is a substantial undertaking that, somewhat flawed, captured my interest and gained my respect.

  10. Steve says:

    This is a fascinating epic novel, a big book that paints in broad strokes. The author gallops along in her descriptions of events and people; she skips entire years; she describes people as one would describe dolls (the shapes of their heads and facial features). She describes many deaths, but the peculiarities and complications of life most fascinate her. Can one woman survive when just about everyone in her family dies in domestic tragedy? Can one man -- however twisted -- own another person's life without actually committing murder? This is an unusual and magnificent novel. The author describes the delicate balance of the white folks clinging to the edge of a heavily-wooded continent, hoping for solvent banks and railroad terminus. She describes the tragedy of the Chinese, brought in to do some heavy work and then deported as quickly as possible. And she describes the inter-tribal skirmishes between the American Indian tribes, and how it affects or doesn't affect their interactions with the white settlers. She provides descriptions of the tenacious dealings between the East Coast and West, and how the economic woes of the East (which seem eerily similar to our present day troubles) impact those in the West. Those of us who live up here in the Pacific Northwest glean some images of early Seattle and Bellingham. I've applied all of these words and I still cannot adequately describe this book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *