Monday, November 15, 2010

Review: Outside the Ordinary World by Dori Ostermiller

Thirty years and three thousand miles from that history, I can't believe it's come to this--pacing past the stacks of Parenting and Family Circle while my thirteen-year-old, on the other side of that door, makes her case against me. Don't we all assume we'll do it differently, not repeat the past? We believe with all our hearts that we can rise above the things they couldn't. Sometimes, our beliefs blind us. [pg 10]

Outside the Ordinary World by Dori Ostermiller
Mira, 2010
Fiction; 376 pgs

My roommate and I were both psychology majors. She was working on a paper about infidelity and she asked me if I thought I could stay with a husband how had cheated on me. My answer was instantaneous. Of course not. No hesitation. The more we talked, however, the more I began to wonder. I still doubt I could stay in a relationship with someone who had broken my trust in that way, but I eventually came to see that it wasn't black and white. And you really never can know what you would do unless you were in that situation yourself. Relationships of any kind can be complex, marriage especially so. The reasons for infidelity vary and some couples are able to work through whatever issues they had that brought them to that particular juncture in their lives. Some aren't. So, while I don't condone infidelity, I do, on some level, understand why it can happen in certain instances. A breakdown of communication is often at the core. There are exceptions, of course. There are bad people out there, after all. And sometimes couples do grow apart.

Dori Ostermiller's novel, Outside the Ordinary World, tells the story of a family in turmoil. Sylvia finds herself unhappy in her marriage and frustrated with her life. She is an artist who hasn't felt inspired to paint like she once was, feels neglected by her husband, and overwhelmed by her motherly duties. When Tai walks into her life she gives in to her longings--here is someone who is interested in her, listens to her and has reawakened something in her that has long been dormant. Ironically, she finds herself on a similar path that her mother had led many years ago, despite her promise to herself that she'd be nothing like her. Sylvia's own mother had an affair for years; she, too, unhappy in her marriage and with her life. Their two stories are different, however, on many levels as became evident as the two stories progressed and eventually came together. Sylvia's marriage with her husband was much different from that of her mother's and father's. The direction their lives took was also much different.

It is easy to judge Sylvia and her mother for the choices they made. Both made mistakes and many of them. I found myself especially angry at Sylvia's mother, Elaine, because she involved her children in her affair, asking them to keep Mr. Robert a secret for so many years. It put the girls in a very bad position, pitting them against their father in a way and making them choose sides.

The novel goes back and forth between the present and the past. We get a glimpse into Sylvia's childhood as Sylvia sees it as well as her current life. To a degree I empathized with Sylvia. What she was feeling and going through is normal. How we react to such feelings is what makes the difference. Sylvia chose to seek the intimacy she longed for elsewhere. I don't agree with her choices and admit to clicking my tongue at her behavior and rationalization more than once throughout the novel. And yet. I still felt for her and could see how she could make the choices she made, however wrong they were. And as the story progressed, it became more and more clear that she wasn't the only one to blame for her failing marriage.

What most interested me in the novel was the impact the affairs had on the children, both Sylvia and her sister and well as Sylvia's own children, particularly her oldest. While Elaine was more obvious in her affair, Sylvia tried to keep hers a secret from her children. Even despite that, her secretiveness and unhappiness had severe repercussions on the rest of her family.

Dori Ostermiller does a good job of creating characters who are flawed and very real, and, while I did find myself feeling bad for the husbands (Sylvia's and also her own father), they weren't completely innocent for their part in their crumbling marriages, which is often true in situations like theirs. In fact, I had difficult time feeling bad for Sylvia's father at times; some of his own actions really made me angry. It doesn't erase the blame and fault that falls squarely on the shoulders of the person who had the affair, but it can shed light on the why of it.

I also really appreciated how the author brought out the complexities in situations like this--that no two relationships are alike and that while couples do split up over affairs, attempts and actual reconciliation can also be a goal. Even in the aftermath, once the secret is out, however, it is not easy, not only for the couple but the children as well. There is no happily ever after ending.

Outside the Ordinary World tackles a subject matter that is outside of my comfort zone as I have rather strong negative feelings about infidelity. I wasn't sure how I would react to Sylvia. One of the aspects I love about fiction is being able to step outside of my own ordinary world and into that of others, including the lives of someone whose shoes I can't see myself walking in. I've always had an interest in knowing what makes people tick, why they make the decisions they do, and I find that often in the fiction I read. I never felt that Sylvia was a bad person, nor was her mother. They were lost and confused. I don't like the decisions they made, but when haven't we all made a mistake, some bigger than others? The hope is that we can learn from them so as not to make the same mistakes again.

Rating: * (Very Good)

You can learn more about Dori Ostermiller and her book on the author's website. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter. I hope you will check out what others had to say on the TLC Book Tours route!

Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour. Book for review provided by the publisher.

© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. Very thoughtful review, Wendy. Another book that I liked and carried the same theme is Love In Mid Air by Kim Wright. I find it hard to blame the characters in the novels I read, more so if I as a reader actually have similar experiences. People pass judgment but really, what do they know?

  2. I have pretty strong feelings about infidelity as well, and I am not quite sure what my reactions to this book would be. I do think that your review was incredibly insightful though, and I appreciate sharing your opinions in such a clear and thoughtful way.

  3. This is a book that I know would provoke a lot of opinions in me. I'm adding it to my list.

  4. I have a friend who's husband cheated on her repeatedly and when they split (they're not divorced) it was his decision and not hers. I never could understand her reluctance to separate, but I guess you never know what someone else is living. This book sounds thought provoking.

  5. Wendy, I am so glad I recently ordered this book after reading a couple of good reviews (like yours). It really sounds like one I'd enjoy. Thanks

  6. Great review, Wendy! I do have some unfortunate personal experience with the topic, and I know how complicated it can be, particularly in longtime marriages where there hasn't been a pattern of cheating. I thought Ostermiller handles it very effectively.

    And I agree with your point about Elaine involving her kids in her affair - to me that was crossing a line.

  7. Excellent review, Wendy! I've strong feelings towards infidelity as well. This book sounds like an emotional and a thought-provoking read. I'll have to check it out.

  8. I have been wanting this book! And now I want it more...

  9. This sounds like one of those books that makes you stop and think about a subject matter that you normally wouldn't think about...or make you think differently about it.

  10. I once thought the same thing...I wouldn't stay if that happened to me. But as I have gotten older I realize that not all situations are black/white. Sounds like a book that is thought provoking and one that I need to think about reading!

  11. I'm almost finished reading this one, and I'm surprised how heavy it is. The author really does a good job showing how infidelity isn't always a black and white issue.

  12. I had no idea what this book was about. It sounds captivating. I have similar feelings about infidelity but would like to read a book like this to see how I felt and what I think when confonted with it in this way.

    I really enjoyed your review!
    ~ Amy

  13. Alice - Thank you, Alice. I love how fiction puts you in the minds of other people and lets you experience what they're going through, whether it be stuff I can relate to our not.

    Heather - I admit I usually won't give books like this a chance, but something about this one really interested me when I first heard about it. I am glad I read it. I think it helps that the author didn't glamorize infidelity.

    Kathleen - I found it to be thought provoking--and emotion-raising. I do hope you read it as I'd love to know what you think.

    Kathy - You really never do know, do you? Relationships are so complex, just as people are, and so it's hard sometimes to understand why people make the choices they do.

    Diane - I hope you will enjoy it, Diane. I really like Dori's writing and think this book has a lot to offer.

    Florinda - Thank you! I'm sorry you had to go through that. It's something I hope I never experience first hand.

  14. Melody - Thanks, Melody. I hope you will like it if you do read it!

    Christine - I think you might like this one so I hope you are able to read it. :-)

    Kris - Yes, it is definitely one of those types of books--for me anyway.

    Staci - I think that time and age has made me rethink a lot of things like this. It's hard to know what you'd do in such a situation unless you are in it yourself--and what the circumstances are surrounding it.

    Anna - I look forward to reading your thoughts on this one, Anna!

    Amy - Thank you, Amy. It wasn't quite what I expected but it's well worth reading, I think.

  15. The whole time I was reading this I kept thinking that it would be great to discuss with other people. So glad my book club is reading it in January. I just hope I can remember all of the things I wanted to talk about!

  16. Love novels about marriage and its many complications. When I was younger I always thought that til death do us part meant forgiving no matter the offense. I still think that, but know infedelity would be a tough one to get past. I'll have to add this one to my list.

  17. Great review! I have not read anything by Dori Ostermiller, but I will have to check this one out. Plus, I am new to your blog, and I love all the photos that you have at the top of the kitties! So cute!

  18. Lisa - I hope you'll share what your book club thinks when they read it next month!

    Stacy - It's such a complex issue, isn't it? Not at all black and white.

    Romance Novels - Thank you! I'll definitely be looking for more by this author in the future.


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