The Magazine

Bluegrass Fever

Music to accompany despairs of the heart.

Aug 17, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 45 • By EDITH ALSTON
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Meanwhile, lack of attachment has given her a fierce eye. Shimmering with the tension of Aloma's emerging awareness over a long hot summer, All the Living corners like the packaging symbol for recycling, from keen observation to constricted realization to contradictory thought, a tight-flowing triad of everything between her and Orren that goes unexpressed. Briefly, when she's goaded Orren into dispensing with his barnyard rooster, the awakening bolts into a moment almost comic:

Orren, my God, she said and then, in a heat, as if it explained something, My God, Orren, I'm a girl. Her words stilted out, sputtering in exasperation. .  .  . And when she knew she should have stopped she went on: Lord, just think a little bit next time. She heaved a sigh, not knowing how he could live with her and hear the words out of her mouth and lie with her every night. .  .  .

Triangulating to include the minister, the story both moves out over the broader ground of regional values and religious mores, and seeps deep into the meaning for Aloma of music. As a Kentuckian with a background in music and a master's degree in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School, C. E. Morgan is clearly at home in this emotional and cultural geography. Bell, in his dignity, is an informing figure, ardent in the pulpit and committed to his convictions (but with a domineering mother), and if hard calvings and long-awaited rainstorms over parched fields are stock-in-trade scenes for coming to terms with life on the farm, Aloma's growing understanding of Orren's labors and loss give them an honest measure beyond cliché.

Morgan's language, though, is what matters the most. In the tension between Aloma's need to feel and her ability to see, All the Living resonates with the music of a good country fiddle.

Edith Alston is an editor and writer in New York.