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The Living: A Novel by Annie Dillard

The Living: A Novel (original 1992; edition 1993)

by Annie Dillard

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926209,438 (3.95)35
Title:The Living: A Novel
Authors:Annie Dillard
Info:Harper Perennial (1993), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 416 pages
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The Living by Annie Dillard (1992)



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tough novel @ growing up in Pacific NW America — Births, deaths, etc.
A mesmerizing evocation of life in the Pacific Northwest during the last decades of the 19th century.
  christinejoseph | Jan 30, 2016 |
I loved the details of life in early Washington State, nuanced with smells, sounds, and texture. It appears to be an interesting experiment in expressing the fact of living, dying, surviving, dying, living' the continuity and difficulties of life...but for me, it was lacking feeling. We see everything that happens very clearly, but seem to barely touch how people feel; there are so many people and so many decades that our connections with individuals is tenuous at best.

The audio reader was a good reader as far as pace, resonance, and meaning, but mispronounced place names terribly, which was distracting and should have been corrected. ( )
  Connie-D | Jan 17, 2016 |
Dillard has created such simple, nimble prose- that it is awe-inspiring the depths which this novel ultimately takes us. Through the layered stories of settlers, generation by generation- she is able to portray the myths of mankind’s progress. The apparent insignificance of a single life – is counterbalanced by the quiet undefined sense of cohesion in the world. An unseen ephemeral pattern of which, there is only the slightest sense. Dillard leans into the harshness of life- the suffering and violence. Through the uncertain existence of pioneers in the great Northwest, she portrays the sudden shock of death- that ever so thin line between the living and the dead. I feel that one of the core themes of this work is the living’s effort to make sense out of death. In the end, there is the hint that “time” as mortals see it, is a very poor measure of existence. Again, there is something so elusive, so poignant about her work--- as though it is all a subtle rephrasing of life’s eternal unanswered questions. ( )
  Alidawn | Jan 16, 2016 |
An epic story covering 40 years in the history of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, starting in 1855. Many interesting characters and details of how the early pioneers to the region lived, survived and developed the land into the cities that now thrive -- Seattle, Tacoma, and Bellingham, WA, which is the primary focus of the book. Because I live in these cities, I found the history fascinating and Dillard's descriptions of the place precise and accurate. I did find myself wondering if the book would hold the interest of people not familiar with the place. For that to happen, the narrative must be compelling and if this book falls short in any part, it may be that. Though the times that are the focus of the book required much in the way of physical effort from the people, Dillard's narrative spends a majority of the time inside the minds of the characters as they ruminate on life and what seems to be ever-present death in this difficult environment. But there are enough moments in which characters we have come to know are cast onto the rocks of fate in heart-wrenching ways that, overall, you do find yourself rooting for these characters and I found myself wanting to spend more time with them just to make sure they'd all be alright in the end. There is a sense of realness to the characters and I was left missing them, both because the story was over and because they all live more than a hundred years ago and so as vibrant as they are in the pages of the book, they are long gone and buried by time. ( )
  EthanYarbrough | Oct 7, 2015 |
This was an unusual novel. Annie Dillard writes about the life of people in Bellingham Bay in the late 1800s. It’s fiction, but she clearly researched what things looked like, how people lived, etc. In that way it’s fascinating. Also, the writing is truly gorgeous - some of the most beautiful and potent writing I’ve read in a while. For example, there’s a scene late in the book in which one of the characters, who is expecting to die very soon, goes out for an evening walk:

“Here, in all the world, there shone only his own light - his red burning tobacco, and the glowing dottle beneath it, and the black unburnt bits above. There was no other light, human or inhuman, up or down the beach, or out on the invisible islands, or back in the woods, or anywhere on earth or in heaven, except the chill and fantastical sheen on the sea, whose cause was unfathomable. Before him extended the visible universe: an unstable, thick darkness almost met the silver line of the sea. A long crack had opened between the thick darkness and the water. The crack, half the apparent height of a man, gave out upon a thin darkness, black without substance or stars. He looked out upon the thin darkness, and seemed to hear the woulds of the dead whir and slip on its deep fastness. They wanted back. Their bodies in the graveyard on the cliff could not see to steer their sleeping course, their sleeping heels in the air.”

There are a couple of down sides to this book. One is that it’s pretty grim throughout - that may be the reality of those times, but it made it occasionally hard to keep reading. Also, there’s no story arc: The path of the novel is quite flat. I think she did that deliberately so that the emphasis would be on the place (a strong character itself) and the collective lives of the people, rather than any specific story. For me, that kept it from being as engaging as I would have liked. ( )
  meredk | Apr 13, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 006092411X, Paperback)

Listening to Lawrence Luckinbill read Annie Dillard's historical novel The Living takes a little getting used to. The very first sentence reveals a pronounced and distracting lisp, but don't let that dissuade you from continuing. Luckinbill's voice also exhibits a simple honesty, a gruffness that is perfectly suited to the steely pioneer spirit of Dillard's story. Surprisingly quickly, the vocal idiosyncrasy fades away, leaving only the emotional resonance of Luckenbill's obviously heartfelt connection to this powerful tale.

Dillard's finely crafted prose and Luckinbill's sincere voice carry you back to the early days of American expansion, into the truly Wild West and the stone-hard life these settlers would be forced to endure. "She had cried out to God all day and maybe all night, too, that he would lend her strength to bear affliction and go on. She was not aware that underneath she prayed another prayer as if to a power above God, or at least to his better nature, that he was finished with the worst of it." Of course, God isn't finished, and neither are these brave souls. Dillard opens their world slowly, stretching the horizon generation by generation, tethering the fate of one small family to that of the struggling town that they are helping to build and, ultimately, to the inexorable rise of the emerging nation. (Running time: six hours, four cassettes) --George Laney

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:29 -0400)

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The story of Whatcom, Washington and its inhabitants during the nineteenth century.

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