The Living: A Novel

by Annie Dillard

Hardcover, 1992

Call number

FIC DIL

Collection

Genres

Publication

Harpercollins (1992), 397 pages

Description

Historical novel of the American Northwest in the late 19th century focusing on frontier life in the settlement at Whatcom on Bellingham Bay (near Puget Sound).

User reviews

LibraryThing member JBD1
Dillard's prose is wonderfully descriptive and delightfully crafted; this is a fabulous work.
LibraryThing member rachelellen
This is not a book through which you race along. It took me a full month to read it, I think. It's very dense, very solid, full of similes that make you think, and situations that make you cringe or cry or laugh or shudder. There's not much of a plot, which in this instance is OK, because the focus of the story is on the people and on the place in which they live and on the nature of life there. You get a definite sense in the first half of the book of the apparent randomness of death on the 19th-century Northwestern U.S. frontier, and the second half goes more into life in a boom town and the way the ups and downs of that kind of existence affect the characters. I'm making it sound very dull, but it's not; the writing is lyrical and thoughtful and very, very good.… (more)
LibraryThing member humanart
I love Annie Dillard's books for their intensity and for her character studies. This book is almost too intense. You'll understand the title a few different ways by the time you finish the book
LibraryThing member ksmyth
I've been told that this is not Annie Dillard's best work. Nevertheless, there are things about it that I really like, and some things I find less appealing.

First, I love the atmospherics in the book. Her description of Western Washington in the 1850's, when the book begins are right on, and give a great period flavor. The dark, dripping forest, the damp days, make the setting feel almost primeval.

Unfortunately, I'm less fond of the plot--particularly at the end of the book, when it sort of degenerates into a big whodunit. Who cares.

I liked this book but you have to take the good with the bad.
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LibraryThing member Cygnus555
I purchased this book shortly after I moved to Bellingham Washington... It was a really great novel that made me really understand how difficult the early settlers had it. I was shocked and dismayed by the huge numbers of people who died horrible deaths in this book.
LibraryThing member witchyrichy
Slow, like a Pacific Northwest winter, but I found myself caught up in the story of these pioneers and their families who faced hardship and death. The prose was amazing, full of literary devices that often caused me to stop for a moment and generally made me read slower than I usually do.
LibraryThing member katefear
don't get too attached to any characters in this book...
LibraryThing member meredk
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.
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LibraryThing member EthanYarbrough
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member Gwendydd
I think the biggest reason that I enjoyed this book is that I live in Seattle, so I am familiar with the areas in which it takes place, and can appreciate how much this area has changed in the past 150 years. The book really made me think about the first white settlers who came out here, and how hard their lives were, yet how rewarding the landscape could be for them, as it is for me.

On the downside, the book is at time gruesome and depressing - life was hard for these people, and Dillard doesn't spare us any of the grief or gore. Sometimes I didn't really understand the characters and their feelings. The plot line doesn't really follow a conflict-resolution trajectory: it is just a continuing saga of a few generations of Puget Sound's first settlers, and as such the plot wasn't very satisfying. Closer to real life, perhaps, but there was never a sense of resolution. Dillard's writing is very rewarding.
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Pages

397

ISBN

0060168706 / 9780060168704
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