I was attracted to The Magic of Ordinary Days, by Ann Howard Creel, because of the title. The plot of this short novel was not really quite what I imagined when I first read the title, but the tone and atmosphere of the book lived up to my expectations.
It is difficult to summarize the story without giving away events that are meant to be gradually unveiled, but I want to try to give some idea so that I can discuss some specifics. The premise is that of arranged marriage: the father of a young woman who becomes pregnant during WWII arranges for her to marry a farmer. She had envisioned a very different life for herself, one in which she had a career, and as she faces the difficulties of adjusting to the loneliness of farm life, she befriends two Japanese-American sisters living at a nearby internment camp. The realization point for her about life and love comes when she is an unwitting accomplice to a crime and faces betrayal by people she trusted.
I enjoyed the novel very much. The writing is delicate and gentle, with sentences such as “That night in bed, shafts of dusty worry lit up by the moon came streaming into the window” and paragraphs such as the opening paragraph:
I don’t often think back to that year, the last year of the war – its days, its decisions – not unless I’m out walking the dawn of a quiet winter morning, when new snowfall has stunned into silence the lands around me, when even the ice crystals in the air hold still. On those mornings of frozen perfection, when most living creatures keep to a warm bed or a deep ground hole, I pull on my heaviest old boots and set out to make first tracks through the topcrust and let the early dawn know I’m still alive and appreciating every last minute of her fine lavender light.
or this paragraph:
I closed my eyes. After a couple of B-25 trainers passed overhead, near silence returned. From far away came the call of a hawk, hunting. I could hear the scuff of critters in the underbrush below me and a sigh of wind sailing through nearby juniper trees. When I opened my eyes and took another bite, I wondered about those early pioneers’ lives. What had they thought about? What of their hopes and dreams? And how did they handle the solitude and not lose their minds?
The writing does indeed convey a sense of the “magic of ordinary days.”
The story is well-crafted, beautiful in certain senses. But there were things about it that bothered me. These do not make it a bad story, just not a completely comfortable one. I did not like the fact that the narrator’s pre-marital pregnancy was seen as having “gotten herself in trouble,” even though I know that this was in fact the reality of the times (and in fact some people still see things this way). More significantly, though, I was not happy about the way in which she had to completely give up her dream of being an archaeologist, the way in which she had to settle for a domestic married life, simply because she had gotten pregnant. Furthermore, that in the end she is happy with this. Perhaps this is even what the title means, that she comes to see that there is magic in ordinary days, that she does not need to travel far and wide in order to experience magic. While perhaps an important message, it was bittersweet because of what she gave up in coming to that point.
Among the things I did like in the story is the portrayal of the Japanese-Americans. Creel handles the topic with a sensitive and caring touch, showing that they are human beings just like anyone else. Overall, I definitely recommend The Magic of Ordinary Days; it is a moving and well-written novel.