I like a good farm novel. The remote landscape, the impossible work, the fickle mercy of the elements, and the quiet, isolated existence are characteristics of place that lend themselves to great narratives. Characters grow, fail, escape or accept often because of these natural confines. It was on the farm that Cather and Steinbeck wrote their best work. And I should mention all those Southern writers, like Warren and Faulkner.
C. E. Morgan’s first novel, All the Living, takes advantage of this natural isolation. Aloma moves to rural Kentucky to live with her boyfriend Orren, who inherited the family tobacco farm. Orren only took over the farm after losing his mother and elder brother in a tragic automobile accident. He is suffering from this loss and coping at an emotional distance. He is also the only one working the farm, relegating Aloma to the farm house, which is in need of repair. Aloma, a pianist, is unable to find solace in the family’s piano, which earns its place in the derelict house. She looks for another instrument at the church, befriending Bell, the preacher, and setting into motion a crisis for Aloma. Stay with the distant Orren? Accept the subtle advances of Bell? Can her talent at the piano fit into a future here?
A gifted prose writer, Morgan’s greatest strength is her sense of place. I enjoyed watching the author build a landscape on a page, making Kentucky as an important a character as Orren or Bell. I look forward to more from C. E. Morgan.