Insightful realism collides with moments of the supernatural in this tale of relationships on the brink. In Ordinary People by Diana Evans, we are introduced to two couples: city-dwelling Londoners, Melissa and Michael; and long-time suburbanites, Stephanie and Damian. Each relationship has years of investment behind it, as well as, children in tow. And the friendship between the couples is demonstrated through periodic gatherings, where their respective families are brought together for food, drink, and spirited conversation. But all is not well. Melissa and Michael are out-of-sync. Michael longs to reconnect with Melissa, a woman for whom his love and attraction have never waned. But Melissa desires to reconnect with herself. Often befuddled by the complexities and demands of motherhood, Melissa is searching for who she once was before small humans dominated her life. What Melissa views as Michael’s neediness and inability to be emotionally present, creates further friction and threatens their stability as a couple.
Stephanie and Damian have their own share of problems. The recent loss of Damian’s father has sent him into an emotional tail-spin. His life lacks vigor and drive. He hates his job and his fellow co-workers. And the constant unsolicited advice he receives from his father-in-law on how to improve his situation, irritates him to no end. Of course, he blames Stephanie. She’s his wife. The one closest often gets the blame. For her part, Stephanie has tried to offer help. But you can only help someone who truly wants it. Stephanie and Damian find themselves held together by a singular string, stretched to its max; their children. But is that enough to keep them together?
Ordinary People presents an interesting take on life, relationships, parenthood, and gender politics. Although the issue of race is also presented in the story (including a heart-wrenching subplot involving gang violence in South London), Diana Evans makes a point of creating a narrative that holistically investigates the internal lives of its black characters. Their beliefs, emotions, and actions are varied and complex. Obviously, their lives are affected by systemic racism. But that does not account for their entire story. Ordinary People illustrates the very human need to connect. Unfortunately, for these characters, when that need isn’t met, boundaries become easier to cross. Good people become unrecognizable.
With R&B soul as its soundtrack, Ordinary People is a story of tension, miscommunication, and disappointment. It rings of something lost, which might never be reclaimed. Yet it’s also a story of grace and forgiveness. Because at some point, you have to decide to move forward, and just get on with it.
Oh, and did I mention the novel features a poorly-designed haunted house? Welp…it does.