Book Review: Ordinary People by Diana Evans

Ordinary People – Diana Evans (Bond Street Books, 2018)

The wondering had increased, until she had announced to the midwife that she wanted a VBAC, the term referring to the category of women who are stupid enough to try it again the natural way, to return to the vagina, to risk the rupturing of the caesarean scar in order to know what it feels like to experience the profound and ultimate summit of womanhood

This quote came on page 14 of Ordinary People and I found it both off-putting and honest. Which was kind of my entire experience with the novel. There was a lot here that felt easily familiar to me – the way a relationship changes over years and babies – and a lot that didn’t. Here we are introduced to Melissa and her recent experience of giving birth to her second child, her son Blake. Throughout the section describing her birth experiences I couldn’t quite tell if the intention was this gentle mocking tone toward Melissa and her lost expectations but I found I didn’t like it. Yet just a few pages later is described the moment Melissa holds Blake for the first time: “She looked at him, and everything went but love” and it’s so perfect that I was willing to forgive and continue.

The book kind of continues like this. Although the book purports to be about two couples, I really found Michael and Melissa to be the main characters and Damian and Stephanie to be peripheral. M & M have been together for 13 years, engaged but never married. Their lives are entwined as any long-term couple’s are, especially with the additions of a shared home and two children. But the spark and fire that once flew between them is dying and neither is sure if their relationship is going to continue. Michael misses the Melissa he first met. Melissa is stifled by motherhood, although she loves her children, and resentful of Michel’s life and work outside of their home.

Most of all, Ordinary People is an exploration of how relationships work; how they require people to compromise and how much compromise is acceptable. There is also the question of how people change over time and what happens when you and your partner aren’t changing together.

While there are a lot of interesting questions raised and approached in a mostly honest and realistic manner, overall Ordinary People didn’t entirely pull me in. I found Michael and Melissa frustrating. On the surface, I feel like I should have been able to empathize with them – I’m also a parent of young children who has been in the same relationship for over a decade. But there was a lot that happened between these two that made me lose sympathy for either of them.

As well, there is a weird, supernatural element that is (maybe?) happening throughout the book and, honestly, I just didn’t get it. Does it represent something? Is someone losing their mind? Are we supposed to believe it?

I think if the book had been maybe a hundred pages shorter and therefore a more tightly told story, it would have been stronger. For me, Ordinary People dragged on and while I wanted to see how it ended, I was also relieved when it was over.

(You can read some other fine reviews of Ordinary People from Callum McLaughlin here and from Rachel at pace, amore, libri here.)

(I feel like I’m missing someone’s review of this that I read recently so if that was you, please let me know!)

16 thoughts on “Book Review: Ordinary People by Diana Evans”

  1. Excellent review! I totally agree that the book would have had more impact if it had been more compact. And I found the supernatural element jarring as well. In an otherwise realistic story, its thematic meaning should have been made clear, but it was sadly underdeveloped and ultimately dismissed, which left me wondering why it was included at all.

    Thank you for the shout out! 😊

    1. Thank you! And yes, I have no idea if we are supposed to believe Melissa or if it’s some convoluted metaphor for their relationship or what? I can understand the author not wanting to spell it out too broadly but there is such a thing as too much ambiguity.

  2. I don’t have children, nor have I ever been pregnant, but dang, that opening quote really pulled me in. I think it’s because I have a few friends who are very enthusiastic about natural birth at home, so I’ve read lots of articles about different types of births and what it means to a woman to have a natural birth, even at the risk of injury. Granted, it’s that “even at the risk of injury” part that I find horribly irresponsible, especially given that I live in the U.S. and our infant mortality rate is surprisingly high. You’re a mom, though, so I trust your reading of this novel!

    1. There is definitely this weird pressure about giving birth the “right” way and that often tied into the idea that natural or at home is somehow better. I thought I was immune to it until I was faced with the choice of having a VBAC with my second. I definitely wouldn’t have done it if it hadn’t been supported by my doctors, but it made this section feel very familiar!

    2. I feel pretty content with two. I used to want four kids but I think I’m more practical now and two makes sense for our lifestyle/what I feel capable of handling day-to-day. Plus, I don’t really want to go through another pregnancy.

    3. Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

      My brother and his wife have four kids. The two biggies are 10 and 9, and the two littles are 3 and 2. Having kids in shifts seems like a smart idea, assuming the biggies like having littles around and want to be involved.

    4. That’s not a bad way to do it. I just can’t imagine going back to the baby stage once you’re well out of it like that. Pretty sure I’ll want to throw a party when Rose finishes wearing diapers!

    5. I think she’d love it! Most babies want to be big kids, so a party would be fun — and on the side you can have grown-up done-with-diapers drinks. πŸ˜‰

  3. The title of Ordinary People really appeals to me – I love reading about ordinary people and ordinary lives. But your review makes me think the book is skip-able. Which is a good thing! πŸ™‚

    1. Have you read Ordinary People by Judith Guest? I’ve also been hearing great things about Normal People by Sally Rooney. So if the title appeals to you, you can have some other options!

    2. I remember liking it when I read it but that was back in high school so I can’t guarantee its quality! Apparently the movie based on the book won an Academy Award though.

    1. It has a lot that SHOULD be appealing but it fell short of the mark for me. I’d be interested to hear your opinion on it, but I can’t exactly recommend it!

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