Dori Ostermillers debut novel, Outside the Ordinary World, covers a lot of ground. It's the engrossing history of a complex family, an examination of marriage and its challenges, and a reflection on how women may find themselves becoming their own mothers, despite every effort not to.
Moving back and forth, in alternating chapters, over the 30 years between the mid-1970s and the present day and from California to Massachusetts, Ostermiller follows the parallels and differences between the disintegration of Sylvia Sandon's parents' marriage when she was a child and the current crisis in her own. Despite Sylvia's determination not to have history repeat itself or to have her mother's story become her own, a distance has grown between her and her husband Nathan, leaving room for a mutual attraction to develop between her and landscape gardener Tai Rosen. Sylvia's conflict is further complicated by a rebellious daughter, an endless house renovation, a dying grandmother, and the memories of how her parents' marriage ended - and the role she believes she played in it.
Marital fidelity and its opposite are the dominant themes of the novel, and they're considered thought-provokingly and from various perspectives. Infidelity is a complicated topic, and given my own personal experience with it, I appreciated that it was treated as such. It doesn'tt tend to happen unless a space has been created in a marriage that allows it to, although sometimes the spouses may not realize the space is there until one partner's actions force them to face it. It doesn'tt automatically mean a marriage is over, either. And it affects more people, in more unpredictable ways, than those directly participating in it.
Outside the Ordinary World is vividly written and held my attention fully. While there were scenes that felt a little overdone to me, for the most part the story felt emotionally true, and the characters - particularly Sylvia and her mother Elaine - were well-drawn and developed. This novel is quality women's fiction, and would give book groups quite a lot to talk about.