Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Magic of Ordinary Days

"'Sometimes you do find what you're looking for, closer than you think.'"

Plans. We've all got them. Plans for what we will do tomorrow, next week, a year from now, five years from now. Trouble is that life never seems to go like we plan. The unexpected always happens, leaving our perfectly ordered plans in complete disarray. In her 2001 novel, Ann Howard Creel describes a life ripped completely off course by the unexpected, and the beauty and happiness that is so often found in ordinary places among ordinary people.

The Plot:

Olivia (Livvy) Dunne has her life all mapped out. She is only a few semesters away from completing her degree in archeology, and after that she plans to join digs in far away places like Egypt. But then her mother becomes very sick and Livvy is left to care for her. After her mother's death, Livvy gets caught up in a whirlwind romance that leaves her pregnant and alone. Her minister father hastily arranges a marriage for her to save the family from disgrace, and Livvy soon finds herself on a train to the Colorado countryside to marry a man she has never met.

That man is Ray Singleton, a farmer living alone on his family's century old farm. Though he is kind and gentle to Livvy, she cannot accept him as someone whom she would ever be able to love. The long country days creep slowly by until Livvy meets Rose and Lorelei, two Japanese-American sisters from the nearby internment camp who are working the Singleton farm. Like Livvy, their hopes and dreams have been shattered by circumstances, and all three girls become fast friends. As the year drags on, Livvy seeks a way to return to her old plans, but after one final betrayal, she begins to see that the love, acceptance, and forgiveness she had been seeking might just be sitting across the kitchen table.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

On the surface, The Magic of Ordinary Days is simply a love story. A man and woman who have never met finding themselves alone on the Colorado flatlands, depending on each other to keep away the loneliness that threatens to kill them. But the book has many more dimensions than that. It touches on human thoughts and feelings that all of us have experienced at one time or another.

The theme that stood out to me the most was the idea of human fragility. In the beginning of the story, Livvy seems to have it all. She's smart, from a good background, and has a flourishing future ahead of her. Then she makes a mistake. Whether circumstances lead her to it, or whether it would have happened anyway, she is not sure. But no matter the influences, she must still face the consequences. Throughout the whole story, she tries to hide her frailty. She never openly admits her weakness to herself and concentrates on returning to the life she had dreamed of. What she doesn't understand is that, like a beautiful vase that has been smashed, her life can never be whole again. She will always bear scars. But what is so wonderful is that, by the end of the story, she has opened herself up to the love and forgiveness that Ray wants give her and realizes that her life is no less beautiful for the heartaches.

Then there was the idea of beauty and magic being found in the most ordinary things in life. Perhaps nothing exemplifies this idea better than Ray. He's not perfect by any means. He's not exactly good looking, he shares almost none of Livvy's interests, and he has some resentment against Japanese-Americans for his brother's death at Pearl Harbor. But for all his imperfections, he is also a loving and caring man. He goes out of his way to make life for Livvy more pleasant and he views his marriage to her as something that is for forever. He instantly accepts her with all of her flaws and mistakes and it is such a joy to watch the shy and awkward man fall head over heels for her. Creel also shows the beauty of the ordinary through her emphasis on history. Through most of the story, Livvy thinks that the only interesting and important things in history are found among ancient and distant civilizations. But she eventually realizes that there is a history that is more intimate and just as important found in the attics of ordinary people.

The final theme seems to focus mostly on our relationships with other people. Livvy's friendship with Rose and Lorelei comes to heartbreaking end because she made the same mistake that most of her family had made in regards to her. She saw them as strong, self-assured, and unable to fall. What she didn't see was that they, like her, were starved for deep connections and desperately desired to return to their past life. How often do we assume that someone is okay because they seem so strong? We don't realize that even the strongest among us need to feel loved, accepted, and appreciated. It is this assumption that helps contribute to Rose and Lorelei's final betrayal.

The Magic of Ordinary Days is a nice little read. It's not great literature by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a thought-provoking and beautiful story. It's not jam packed with action, but it has a charm and beauty in it's quietness. Give it a try.

The Movie:

I first heard of this story by watching the 2005 Hallmark Channel adaptation starring Keri Russell and Skeet Ulrich. Like the book, the film is quiet and beautiful. All of the themes found in the story are played out on the screen to perfection. I especially enjoyed Skeet Ulrich's portrayal of Ray. A great film in the same vein as Love Comes Softly. If you haven't seen this one, do so ASAP.

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