Monday, February 15, 2016
The Magic of Ordinary Days, by Ann Howard Creel
As I mentioned in my nightstand post, my church ladies' book club was set to read The Magic of Ordinary Days, by Ann Howard Creel during the month of February. Life intervened and I wasn't able to attend the discussion of this book, but I did get it read all the same. I'm not sure what anyone else's opinion was, or what was shared, so I feel like this blog post can only been one dimensional in certain respects. This title was spoken highly of and so I approached it with great interest.
If you are unfamiliar with the story, it tells of a young woman named Olivia Dunne who is the oldest of three sisters and daughter to a minister. Upon the death of her mother, Olivia finds herself reeling. A few bad decisions lead to an unexpected pregnancy which, during the 1940's, was deeply frowned upon. Her father arranges a marriage for her in order to hide the shame which she has brought upon their family. Sent from her home in Denver, Colorado, she is moved to the countryside where she marries a farmer. The book tells the story of Olivia and the farmer's growing relationship. It also focuses on some of her interactions with two second generation Japanese girls who are being held at a local internment camp.
I dove into this book wanting to love it and finding it a very enjoyable read. I love historical fiction and enjoyed the arguments Creel made about holding a people in confinement due to a perceived threat to national security. Our country is facing this very issue again - but with a difference group of people. Once again we're struggling to learn from past mistakes and yet make wise choices in order to keep ourselves safe from those who wish us harm. This is an interesting topic and this book makes you think through what it means to put someone's life on hold by placing them into confinement. You also come to understand the risks that people believed they were facing in World War II with the Japanese-Americans. This was a tricky subject then and it's tricky now in this modern age with the new threats we face. The need for wisdom is fantastically great as usual making this an interesting side plot.
The romance (or lack thereof) in The Magic of Ordinary Days is also intriguing. While it might be easy to identify with the Nation's struggle to deal with their wartime enemies appropriately, it's harder to understand what a person might feel about an arranged marriage because that is not something we typically face in this modern age. As the story progresses, we see a growth in both Olivia and her farmer husband as they come to know one another. Their joys, uncertainties, stresses and misunderstandings all read off very believably. Their love story is ultimately one I would deem "cute" to read about, if I'm going to read a romance. Strangers falling in love through a set of rather extraordinary circumstances typically makes for enjoyable reading.
Like I said, I wanted to love this book and I rather did up until the second half after which point I began to despise it. My reasons for ultimately not enjoying this read are two-fold:
1. Olivia is a major, discontented idiot. Her discontentment with life stems as a result of having grandiose opinions about herself. She had high ideals and goals for a woman in that time period (and perhaps any other time period), but her choices failed to reflect or further her goals. Instead of accepting the consequences of her actions and learning from them, she spends a great deal of the book moaning about "what might have been." Chiefly, what got to me is the fact that she thought she was better than her farmer husband. She "rationalizes" herself into believing that she's smarter, prettier, has more potential, etc. than he does. While on the one hand I can believe that diving into a marriage before thinking it through very well is going to cause second guessing, I also take the position that if two people are Christians (which Olivia and her farmer were presented as being) then divorce is not an option and God permits and directs anything and everything in our lives for His glory. After you say "I do" the time for second guessing has come to an abrupt end (excepting cases of abuse, of course!!) and whining and complaining about your circumstances from that point out - while taking no pains to apply yourself to the success of the marriage - is something I flat out have no patience for whatsoever.
What Olivia needed was an in-your-face lecture about what was true and what was false. Her closest friends (i.e., her sisters) gave her horrible advice and failed to encourage her to pursue truth. They took no pains whatsoever to encourage her to walk the hard road and learn from it and so I had no tolerance for them. Advisers who only ever tell you what you want to hear are positively useless creatures. What I think the book does ultimately show is that Olivia was a whiny cry baby who wanted to have her cake and keep on eating it. In reality, God sent her the greatest gift she could ever ask for in her quiet, farmer husband. He is the epitome of grace to Olivia if she would just quit thinking of herself for half a second and realize it.
2. Creel becomes far too descriptive about Olivia and husband's sexual encounters. Really, if you prefer to avoid scenes in books, then you should just avoid this story. It made for especially embarrassing reading considering the ages of various other book club members. (Our group includes women 17 years on up and I wouldn't want them reading this.) Due to the scenes included, I found this title a rather poor selection for our book group. I certainly don't feel as if I can recommend this read as Creel becomes far too descriptive (and, again, Olivia is an idiot). Consider this your Conservative Reader Alert.
I can't really claim to be glad to have read this title. I liked our last book - Far From The Madding Crowd (linked to my thoughts) - ever so much more. Next month is an Agatha Christie and although I already know I'm going to miss the meeting, I'm still going to read a Christie so that I can participate "in spirit" if not in flesh.