All the Living

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 May, 2010, 12:00am

All the Living
by C.E. Morgan
Fourth Estate HK$91

Occasionally the blurb on the back of a novel commits an unintentionally satirical miscarriage of justice against the plot. To wit: 'A lyrical tale of grief and gruelling love on a tobacco farm' (The New Yorker). It is as if there is a new genre of novels: 'Love on Tobacco Farms'. Yet, in All the Living, that is pretty much the bare bones of the plot. Aloma moves to the aforementioned Kentucky plantation after her boyfriend, Orren, inherits it. Life doesn't look promising: 'She had never lived in a house and now, seeing the thing, she was no longer sure she wanted to ... This is ours now, he said. She swallowed and nodded, but then she said, That makes me a little scared.' In love but not intimate, Aloma and Orren are isolated from the world and from each other: 'They ended up scrabbling and tangling across the bed in a way that was not so much loving as mean.' As Orren grieves, Aloma finds meaning, firstly, in music: playing the piano had lent colour to a harsh and lonely childhood. The second escape is more dangerous: a charismatic preacher called Bell who hires Aloma to play at his church services. All the Living is beautiful without ever quite letting itself go.