McGarry Morris, Mary "Songs in Ordinary Time" - 1995
I chose this book because it is on the Oprah list, and have I loved all the novels on that list but one and that was by the only author who declined to be on the list in the first place.
Anyway, an American town in 1960, a time I remember a little. Almost anyone in this novel is poor but that's not all. My family was poor when I grew up but there is a huge difference, we had a family. It looks like there is not one normal functioning family or relationship in this whole book. Everyone has huge problems, starting with alcoholism and ending with murder. There is not a single person in the whole story that looks at life realistically, the most sensitive people are probably the 12 to 17 year old children but, having said that, they don't come across as the brightest ones, either. Life in Atkinson, Vermont was not just hard, it was depressing. The setting somehow reminded me of John Steinbeck's books, one of our book club members asked why all his books have to be so depressing.
Having said that, the book is well written, it builds anticipation, you hold on, you hope for something good to happen to the characters, you feel for them. You don't really expect a happy ending but a glimmer of hope. And this is what happens, in the end, not everything is alright but the outlook is not too bad. And, it is a long book. I like big books, 740 pages of stories, enough time to get to know everyone well. The characters are so well describes, and also the situations,
Still, I hope this is not normal life in America, or at least was not, and that there were ordinary families with a mother and a father who work together for the welfare of their children, who allow them to get a decent education, who converse with their neighbours and relatives.
All in all, I am glad I read this book and I can see why it is on the Oprah list. Not necessarily my favourite of her list, I would have liked to see at least some "normal" people, but a good read. I'm surprised it hasn't been turned into a movie, yet, it would be a great subject.
From the back cover:
"Songs in Ordinary Time is set in the summer of 1960 - the last of quiet times and America's innocence. It centers on Marie Fermoyle, a strong but vulnerable woman whose loneliness and ambition for her children make her easy prey for the dangerous con man Omar Duvall. Marie's children are Alice, seventeen - involved with a troubled young priest; Norm, sixteen - hotheaded and idealistic; and Benjy, twelve - isolated and misunderstood, and so desperate for his mother's happiness that he hides the deadly truth only he knows about Duvall. Among a fascinating cast of characters we meet the children's alcoholic father, Sam Fermoyle, now living with his senile mother and embittered sister; Sam's meek brother-in-law, who makes anonymous 'love' calls from the bathroom of his ailing appliance store; and the Klubock family, who - in complete contrast to the Fermoyles - live an orderly life in the perfect house next door."