Monday, February 15, 2016

The Magic of Ordinary Days, by Ann Howard Creel

This review has been a couple of weeks in the making. I keep sitting down to write up my thoughts and then am distracted away from the computer yet again. I have a few reviews that are begging to be written and I'm hoping to get to some of them this week. (Fingers crossed.)

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.


Sky said...

Sounds like, in this rare case, the movie is better than the book! It's a Hallmark movie, same name. And while it is a bit sappy it's better than most mainstream romantic dramas.

Barbara H. said...

I saw part of the movie version of this, and though Olivia is still bratty in it, it does show her growth as a character, and she's more likable in the end. Plus there are no sexual scenes in it, at least that I saw or remember, mainly because she and her husband did not consummate their marriage even though they were legally married and lived in the same house. If I remember correctly, her father somehow convinced this man to marry her to keep her from the shame of having a baby while unmarried, but her husband gave her the option of leaving some time after the baby was born -- I guess the disgrace of divorce was not as great as the disgrace of having a baby while unmarried -- and she fully intended to take him up on that until she fell in love with him at the end. It was kind of a sweet movie, showing that love doesn't always come in big romantic gestures or being swept off one's feet. Thanks for the warning about the book.

Awdur said...

I so appreciate this review, as I was considering reading this book, and the two points you made about it are things that are very important to me. I hate Scenes in books and dislike whiny character who we're supposed to root for. I'm also glad to hear you liked Far From the Madding Crowd, as that's on my to-read list for this year.

Carrie said...

I heard that there was a movie version and watched some Youtube trailers and interviews about it. It didn't look like it followed the book on a few key points and I think they left off the Japanese internment camp issues altogether? It seemed like the movie focused mostly on the romance and as the most interesting point of the story was the argument about internment camps, the movie already feels like a flop to me.

@Sky - you might be very right in saying that the movie is better than the book. And if I'd watched it before I read it, I might have liked it better. (But then I would have had the raging guilt always hanging over my head that I'd watched the movie and never read the book.) INTERNAL CONFLICT! ;D

Beth said...

I'm laughing at point #1. Not sure if you do this, but I am always "commenting" to the character in books. One time I was listening to an audio book and I'm shouting to the main character, "You need Jesus!"

BerlinerinPoet said...

Interesting. I usually have a low tolerance for sex scenes and I have NO memory of one in this book. Maybe I wasn't as discerning the first time around.

I agree on point number one, for sure. I kind of got the feeling she eventually matured and did realize the gift she had in him, maybe because I ended up loving the husband so much I thought surely she did. haha. At least in my memory, she started out as a whiny brat and ended up changing...but maybe I missed something.

Now I want to reread this because I read it twice and loved it. Definitely the Japanese internment parts were the best.

Carrie said...

@BerlinerinPoet (et al) - Eventually, yes, she realizes what she has. Or she'd be a dolt. But it takes her a forever long time and plenty of internal discussion wherein she feels that life is intolerable that drove me absolutely bananas.

@Beth Starr - *laughing*

Erin said...

Totally riveted by your review. Was going to read it, you had me but after your sum up at the end decided not to.

Bluerose said...

I'll save my reading time for something better, so you saved me some time. :) I may give the movie a chance, though.
I'm glad I'm not the only one that calls characters idiots. It seems to happen more and more these days.

hopeinbrazil said...

I never watch Hallmark movies, but watched this one because of the internment camp theme (yes, it was included). I have to agree with you about your disgust with the heroine. ALL the Christian fiction I've read this year has had petty, shallow heroines. Ugh.

Miller said...

The book was a beautiful story of a woman coming to realize that hat love is after struggling to understand it for her family and experiences before. Yes, she’s a bit of a brat in the beginning, but that is the story. How she works it out. Read the book!

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