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Outside the Ordinary World by Dori…
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Outside the Ordinary World

by Dori Ostermiller

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The story of a woman whose family was torn apart by infidelity as a child and grows up to see how easy it is to escape into an affair.

This book made me so sad. The bleak look at married life and how people drift apart is just horrifying. Maybe truthful? I am divorced and it is kind of how I look at most marriages. Spending a lifetime together can become humdrum as people get wrapped up in their own projects and take each other for granted. Beautifully written, but very bleak.

Also, a complete aside, the book never really dealt with the other daughter's take on their mother's affair and how it affected her (and it very obviously did). That bothered me. I felt like I missed part of the story. ( )
  bookwormteri | Oct 11, 2013 |
Told in chapters that alternate between Sylvia the adult and Sylvia the child, Ostermiller has crafted a novel that twice demonstrates the impact of infidelity. Sylvia and her older sister, Ali, live with a father who is often distant and cruel, and a weak mother with a long-term "boyfriend" who is part of the fabric of their lives. As an adult, Sylvia repeats what she learned as a child and pursues an intimate relationship at the expense of her own marriage and children. While Sylvia's mother chose to make her daughters complicit in her illicit relationship, Sylvia harbors a secret. This is a book that underscores the reality that there are immediate and far-reaching consequences that result from how we choose to live our lives. ( )
  pdebolt | Aug 12, 2011 |
I was intrigued by the description of this book, but was also worried-- I often react badly to books about infidelity.In this case, I really could identify with where Sylvia is in her life. I even started reading the book on my 42nd birthday, and the modern day sections start on Sylvia's 42nd birthday. Sure, the details are different-- I'm not an artist, and there isn't any other guy to even potentially bring this sort of temptation into my life.Sylvia is having a lot of trouble figuring out who she is. She was an artist, but that isn't really working for her right now. Her role as mom isn't feeling fulfilling, and wife isn't going so well either-- she and her husband aren't really communicating about their immediate schedules and the plans for the house they've been renovating for years, let alone the hopes and dreams that brought them together in the first place.When she meets someone that appreciates her as an artist, as a person, and as a woman, the temptation is overwhelming. However, she knows all to well what a toll parental infidelity can take on a family.I appreciated the insight she had into her actions, even while she denied and failed to apply what she knew. The books jumps between Sylvia's present and past, as she deals with her own temptations and we see the effects that her parent's bad marriage and her mother's affair had on her life. She often refuses to see the parallels, but we do. It increased my frustration with her, but also increased my sympathy as well. ( )
  ImBookingIt | Jun 6, 2011 |
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. ( )
  LiteraryFeline | Jan 1, 2011 |
Sylvia, Nathan, Tai, Hannah, Emmie, Elaine
  jantje | Dec 14, 2010 |
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Epigraph
Was there whiskey in the garden -/heat to cool/the blood that calls/to the blue wing at the edge of the sky?/There is that apple./They don't say/how long Eve dreamed/of reaching/-her belly taut with the tang of it-/ before she took. - Sarah Browning
The way of love is not/a subtle argument./The door there/is devastation. - Rumi
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Dedicated to my family - then and now
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I'm pacing circles in the family therapist's waiting room, trying to discern what my daughter is saying on the other side of that door.
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"Sylvia Sandon always swore she wouldn't become her mother, but one August morning she finds herself walking the same path as the fervently religious yet faithless Elaine, into an affair she feels powerless to resist. Against the backdrop of California brush fires of the 1970's, twelve-year-old Sylvia had agreed to hold a secret that would devour her family's dream of happiness. Now struggling to create a better life in small-town New England, Sylvia nonetheless feels caught in the coils of history."--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

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