All The Living, by C.E. Morgan: San Francisco Chronicle, 26 April 2009: Buzz is a marvelous thing (especially for the writer being buzzed about), but it can, perversely, skew a potential reader's expectations by promising too much, or too lavishly. Kentuckian C.E. Morgan's first novel has been compared to the work of Marilynne Robinson and James Salter, and no less than Farrar, Straus and Giroux editor Jonathan Galassi has declared, "Katie is going to be one of the remarkable writers of her generation."
Friend, if C.E. *Katie* Morgan is going to be one of the remarkable writers of her generation, then don’t bother buying anymore contemporary fiction, just read again Dostoevsky, Dickens, Celine, the rest of the classics.
There is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the centre of the literary world--not the United States. The US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining--Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the Nobel Literature prize jury.
All The Living is a perfect example of all that is wrong with American literature. Some provincial publisher pokes around for somebody who would look good sitting with a couple shirt buttons undone next to Oprah, talking loftily about the *human condition.* The provincial publisher, like a crack dealer giving away free the first rock—thus creating a whore who will do anything to stay high, then gives the novice novelist a huge cash advance, hooking them on the *voice of a generation* narcotic. High on literary credit, the scribbler imagines herself a *writer,* and unashamedly plays the part in public.
Next, the provincial publisher, months and months before the book is released, sets about creating Media *buzz* through a carefully crafted marketing plan largely dependent upon payola-procured *advance praise.* Then when the book is set to hit the store shelves, the provincial publisher purchases and places *glowing* reviews in everything from the lowbrow Entertainment Weekly to the pseudo-highbrow New York Times Book Review. This will generate a decent initial sale. . .but after a few hundred *real* people have read the book, which turns out, contrary to the *glowing* reviews, to be SHITE, and said *real* people don’t bother recommending it to their friends, the shite book, suffering from lack of *word of mouth* (the only genuine *buzz*) begins to collect dust on the store bookshelves and in Amazon.com’s fulfillment centers.
When this threatens the provincial publisher’s cynical campaign to spontaneously generate a *voice of a generation* (a *voice* rises from a stinking, maggot-infested shite book), the provincial publisher leans on bricks-and-mortar book retailers by threatening them with credit holds unless they instruct store personnel to hand-sell the book. *Make* books, they call them. $7.00-an-hour book clerks harass customers with dishonest recommendations. Stores must meet their sales quotas, or the corporate office will cut the stores’ payroll hours. This often forces minimum wage employees to buy copies of *make* books, which they promptly *reshelve* in the dumpster.
If the *make* book scam doesn’t work, the provincial publisher’s last resort is to start buying his own author’s book. Yes, the provincial publisher will inflate the sales of the shite book, desperate to make it a *best-seller* and validate their *voice of a generation,* by buying thousands of copies of the shite book from online retailers and having them shipped to hospitals, schools, public libraries, old folks’ homes, prisons, even to the provincial publisher’s own offices. There must be stacks to the ceiling of All The Living at 18 West 18th Street in New York.
As for the shite novel All The Living, well, Hell, it’s not even a novel, it’s an overweight short story, it’s Kirstie Alley-as-novel, and it tells the rather spartan story of a Kentucky orphan girl named *Aloma* (how regional, eh?) who takes up with the first swinging dick who comes her way, a Kentucky tobaccy farmer named Orren (how regional, eh?). After Orren’s mommy dies, he brings Aloma to his tobaccy farm and then, apparently because he’s so grief-stricken, he proceeds to neglect poor Aloma, and sometimes he is even a little brusque with her. Why did he even bother to bring her to the tobaccy farm in the first place, if he was heart sick over mommy? I guess he needed somebody new to sleep with—Aloma, the teddy bear with a vagina.
Anyway, lonely Aloma, who had learned her some piano at her *settlement* school, goes down the road a piece to a little clapboard church and asks the preacher, Bell (how regional, eh?), if he needs a piano player.
I’m sorry, we have a piano player, a good one. I reckon she’s gonna hold up for a while, the preacher says. (p. 64).
Four pages later, the piano player is dead and preacher Bell calls Miss Aloma. . .the rest you can likely guess.
Though if you guessed Bell got himself a piece of Miss Aloma, you guessed a little too far. Bell don’t actually tap dat azz, lessen you reckon on maybe a Matthew 5:28 tap o’ de heart.
Well, I’ll jes go ahead and tell you the res of the story, it don’t make no difference, no how. Miss Aloma don’t tell Bell she’s shacking up with the tobaccy farmer, but when one of the town’s old hens goes a gossipin’ to de preacher about her, he seems real hurt like, and tells Aloma he caint have her to play the piana no mores. This after they’d been kindly warming to each other.
Meanwhile, dat ole boy Orren been gettin anxiouser and anxiouser over his tobaccy crop, waiting for de rain to fall. He gets hisself into such a state, he damn near drives Aloma crazy. . .but in de end, they ain’t nowheres else neither one of them can go, so’s they stay where they are, fixin to make de best o’ it. And dat’s how de shite story ends.
199 pages of the thinnest domestic soap opera and most tepid of love triangles. . .
Listen, I’ll never joke about Stephenie Meyer or Charlaine Harris again. After about 40 pages of this shite, I was praying to the Good Lord to send a creature of the night to feast on Aloma’s and Orren’s blood.
Katie is going to be one of the remarkable writers of her generation.
Yeah. Well. . .
You can tell the author, C.E. *Katie* Morgan, was *trained* in literature. . .she *learned* what passes for her *craft*. . .for this is one of the most over-studied, over-labored novels I’ve ever read. They should have printed this shite in purple ink:
The ragged porch clung weakly to the wall of the building, its floorboards lining out from the door, their splintering gray now naked to the elements that first undressed them. (p. 3).
The cows had all wandered up a hillside to a stand of brazen green trees and stood blackly on the fringe of its shade gazing out, their bodies in the cloaking dark but their heads shined to a high gloss like black pennies in the sunlight. (p. 5).
Orren placed his hand on his own chest flat-palmed and she saw the dark line of dirt under his nails like earthen parentheses. (p.7).
Listen, we’re only seven pages into this shite, and I’m ready to have C.E. *Katie* Morgan flogged for crimes against literature. *Earthen parentheses?* And it just gets worse:
She studied the morning light as it forced itself through the pocked and splintered wood boards of the batten walls so that it shot through in silty bands of white like roughspun silk. It caught and lit the barn sediment as morning sun lights the mist and bugs that hover over the skin of a still river. (p. 131).
A dwarf story stretched out to 199 pages with the most tedious, pretentious purple prose imaginable. 199 pages of inanimate objects *yawning,* *fretting,* *whispering,* *quarreling* and *worrying.*
This is literature for pale, nervous women who need to lay in darkened bedrooms for days at a time. . .
I read this shite thing all the way through just to see how bad it could get, and for the laugh-out-loud *drama* of Aloma being attacked by a rooster, which leads to this, maybe the single most absurd line of dialogue I’ve ever read:
I want not to be murdered by birds! (p. 58).
Ha ha ha. . .what a shite book! *Voice of a generation!* Pray this shite isn’t translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian or any of the Scandinavian languages. . .we don’t need anymore scorn from Horace Engdahl and the rest of the International Literati.
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