Thursday, December 19, 2013

Review: The Magic of Ordinary Days

The Magic of Ordinary Days
By Ann Howard Creel
Penguin, August 2001

About the Book

Olivia Dunne, a studious minister's daughter who dreams of becoming an archaeologist, never thought that the drama of World War II would affect her quiet life in Denver. But when an exhilarating flirtation reshapes her life, she finds herself in a rural Colorado outpost, married to a man she hardly knows.

Overwhelmed by loneliness, Olivia tentatively tries to establish a new life, finding much needed friendship and solace in two Japanese American sisters who are living at a nearby internment camp. When Olivia unwittingly becomes an accomplice to a crime and is faced with betrayal, she finally confronts her own yearnings and comes to understand what she truly believes about the nature of trust and love.

My Review

I picked this one up after watching the movie adaptation. I just loved the movie. It felt like it would be my kind of book too: set just in the right time period for me to love, World War II. But would I like the book or movie better?

Olivia (Livvy) Dunne finds herself married to a stranger, Ray Singleton—a farmer—after she finds herself in an unfortunate situation: She’s pregnant. Her father arranges with another minister to marry off “poor” Livvy to a good, stable man. The two meet on their wedding day. She asks him why he’s willing to marry a stranger and if he’ll be able to love the baby. His answer surprises her: He feels it’s God’s will to bring them together, and, of course, he’ll love her baby. It is the raising of a child that makes a father.

The novel chronicles their lives together that first year as she adjusts to an isolated country lifestyle, as she tries to find ways to occupy her time and grasp the fringes of her true dreams. She loves history and archaeology. She loves finding and discovering old things. She loves finding out about the past, imagining herself in that past.

Ray is only a little helpful. It is Ray’s sister, Martha, who is able to help her the most. For Martha has stories about their parents, grandparents, and so on. It is Martha who is able to tell her about the settling of the place, the original structures built, how their family lived and worked and struggled to create a legacy for the family. And Livvy does see how very much Ray loves the farm, the land, the strong connection he feels to the past and present.

Livvy is lonely still, however. She becomes friendly with two Japanese women living at a nearby Japanese internment camp. She actually meets them in her own fields—for they have been hired to help with the harvest. It seems they are an answer to her prayers; they are so nice and friendly and pleasant to talk with. They even volunteer their tailoring services—providing her with a maternity dress and suit. But is the friendship genuine? I think it’s as genuine as it can be since Livvy doesn’t like being vulnerable and the two sisters almost by necessity don’t feel comfortable telling all their secrets either. I’m not even sure Livvy realizes this until the end when she sees that by protecting herself, protecting her heart, always keeping things inside, she’s keeping love out too.

Livvy’s perspective provides insights to readers about what it was like to live during this time. She tries to keep up with the war through newspapers—though she has to content herself with news that is a day or two old since the delivery is so slow. The travel restrictions also keep Livvy at home with Ray instead of allowing her to visit her family at Christmas and New Years as she originally planned. (“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” would have still been a new Christmas song, having been done in 1943. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” would have been another new holiday song first introduced in the 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis. “The Christmas Song” was written in 1944, but not recorded until 1946.)

I really enjoyed this novel. I loved Ray and Livvy. I loved Martha and her daughter too.

Becky’s Book Reviews
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Mary L. Ball said...

Lovely interview. I would only guess that the single challenge women faced would have been ways to support themselves, other then marrying. There wasn't many jobs for a woman back then and women who worked were often seen as unsavory.

Lis said...

I saw the movie first also (loved the leading actor/actress) and just had to read the book. It's interesting that the movie had a happier ending for the Japanese sisters than the book did (I guess that's Hollywood's style). I really loved Ray and Livvy, also. Thanks for the review!