Monday, October 12, 2009

Jim is observing Columbus Day. He's currently in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he will give talks on F. Scott Fitzgerald for the National Endowment of the Arts-sponsored "Big Read" program at a local Barnes & Noble and on Bruce Springsteen at Western Kentucky University.

His weekend reading has included C. E. Morgan's remarkable debut novel All the Living, published earlier this year. Set on a Kentucky tobacco farm in the 1980s, it tells the story of an orphaned pianist and her lover, who has just inherited the hardscrabble family estate after a tragic family accident. In her literal and figurative isolation, the young woman is drawn into the orbit of a preacher who hires her to play at his church. This is not really a novel you read for its plot, however. Instead, it is the stunningly assured musicality of the prose -- can this really be a first novel? -- and a spiritual depth one doesn't often find in contemporary fiction. Redolent of the romantic yearning of Carson McCullers, the almost remorseless psychological depths of Flannery O'Connor, and the evangelical spirit of Marilynne Robinson, this is artistry of the highest order in a writer whose career could prove to be fascinating.