The Living, by Annie Dillard *****

When I got home from my annual pilgrimage to Powell’s City of Books, I looked over my treasures. Those that had been on my wish list got read first. Now I am down to the books I bought because a Powell’s employee liked them, or from impulse (rare). I also sometimes buy a book if it has won awards and is in a subject area of interest to me.

This book made me wince when I saw I had paid 75% of the original price. It did not look promising.Stained, or fly-specked around the edges; pages yellowing and about to fall out. What had I done?

On the surface, it is historical fiction about the development of Bellingham, WA. A snore (unless you live there MAYBE), right? But then, why was it a New York Times best seller, if it was a waste?
Flip to the author page…Guggenheim Foundation grant, National Endowment for the Arts, Washington Governor’s Award…okay, okay, I would read it!

The story was praised by others as “epic”, and it is true. The characterization and plot are first-rate. There are many families whose lives are followed, and yet, even with sleeping pills under my belt (metaphor; I don’t sleep wearing a belt), I kept track of them all and even more, felt as if I knew them. The writer was true to her characters, and there was nothing formulaic or tossed in as filler to meet a deadline. It was s story about PEOPLE who were shaped by their environment. Some of it filled me with joy, and other parts broke my heart. I was sorry to reach the last page, even though this was a long, leisurely read.

The page numbers are deceptive. It clocks in under 400 pages, but in trade paperback size, it packs a whole lot of words onto each page. (Think small type, slim margins).

This is not a book to be rushed through. Once you are hooked–and if you enjoy historical fiction, or even strong, well built, dynamic characters (and multiple characters are dynamic here!), this is good read by a cozy fire. Buy it for yourself this winter, or get it for a friend.