"Maybe, then, life is a series of reenactments- chasing down new frames for the stories that stalk us."Sylvia swore she'd never be like her mother, but as Outside the Ordinary World by Dori Ostermiller shows, some ghosts are too strong to hide from forever. The novel alternates between Sylvia's childhood, taking place in in the late sixties to mid seventies, to her life as a mother of two and her affair with the father of one of her students from 2004-2005.
I did find Sylvia's lover, Tai, to lack dimension as he was often simply described as being Buddhist, as if that really tells the reader much about him as a person. I wanted to know more about his relationship with his own son, Sylvia's student, and although Ostermiller hints at Tai's tragic past I never felt it was really developed, especially the idea of this stone labyrinth he has created that somehow work as a literary symbol for Sylvia's own life. It is certainly easy to judge Sylvia for her actions, but I did think Ostermiller perhaps tried slightly too hard to avoid doing that, giving Sylvia the justification that her own husband had cheated once as well which seemed a little to easy an explanation, especially since it was also later applied to Sylvia's father. I don't think the affair Sylvia's husband had contributed anything to the novel, and in fact it wasn't really discussed until the very end which I considered surprising considering the fact that Sylvia was having an affair of her own. I do wish it had been left out of the book in order to better give the reader their own opportunity to decide how they view Sylvia's actions. Authors attempting to justify infidelity because a character has been wronged by their spouse is a problem I've had with books in the past, especially All I Ever Wanted by Kristin Higgins where the father has cheated on the career-focused mother multiple times, but only with women who "needed" him. In this case, I simply didn't believe that Sylvia's decision to have an affair with Tai had anything to do with her own husband's affair so I resented having it included in the book as it seemed to imply motivation. Personally, I believed that Sylvia would have had the affair regardless and I think the spousal affair was simply a distraction to the bigger issues the book discussed.
I definitely recommend Outside the Ordinary World for a more mature reader, although I still enjoyed it, I think its appeal would be stronger to somebody who shares more life experiences with Sylvia such as being married to the same person for a decade, or raising children. It is these more mature themes where Ostermiller excels, and I found the portions told during Sylvia's childhood to be lacking a convincing voice, it felt more like an older woman looking back on her experiences than a young girl encountering issues like sex, drugs, and infidelity for the first time. For example, in Susan Henderson's Up From The Blue I rarely had to remind myself that the narrator was a young girl, whereas in Outside the Ordinary World I often did. In contrast, I found the portion of the book told in the present tense to be completely believable, and feel that Ostermiller excels as a writer when focusing on a mother's perspective, rather than a daughter's.***
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Number of Pages: 374 pages
Published: July 2010
This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.