Angie Ellis' Reading Recommendation:
I’ve read The Living twice, listened to it once, and it gets a mention in my latest short story, so I suppose I’m a little obsessed! Set in the early settler days of the Washington area, this story is rugged, honest, and beautifully told by the sublime Annie Dillard.
It’s an unusual story in that it shifts points of view frequently and elegantly, and characters are born and die in much the same way—sometimes before you feel you know them. This, I’m sure, is intentional, as life goes on and place outlasts us all, not cruelly but necessarily—a theme that, to me, was strongly present throughout.
In the novel, we meet Clare Fishburn who is carefree and full of wonder until the town recluse shows up on his doorstep late one night and threatens, “I am going to kill you, shortly… for my own reasons… with which you need not concern yourself.” This is a seemingly random threat, but for the reader, when taken in context, it purposefully focuses broader themes about mortality onto one character—the lively and youthful Clare, of whom Ms. Dillard says, “...was so young ever since he could remember—so young, and so full of ideas.” This midnight threat, of course, changes Clare. His optimism and wonder are themselves victims to the knowledge that, at any given time, he could die.
This is a book about the inevitability of our own end but, more importantly, what we do with that awareness and how we choose to face it. The prose is graceful and perfect, the area of Whatcom is so real you can smell the fog and the firs, and when we are given the gift of time with any particular character, they are fully seen and alive, people who you will find yourself thinking about long after the book is back on the shelf.
Angie Ellis lives on Vancouver Island where she is finishing her first novel and has just received a Canada Council for the Arts grant. Her story "Unschooled" was published in the all creative nonfiction issue of The Fiddlehead. You can also find her work in The Cincinnati Review, The Lascaux Review, Juked, Pithead Chapel, Grain, and others. www.angieelliswriter.com