Outside the Ordinary World
Dori Ostermiller

Goldberg McDuffie
Trade Paperback/384 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7783-2889-6
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". . . carefully delineated plot and finely drawn characters . . ."

Atmospheric writing with a blemished plot.

Sylvia Sandon is suddenly thrust back into the past when the fires burned across California and she burned the letters from her mother’s friend in a wild Santa Ana wind, the night her father died in a car crash. It started when Emmie bumped into Tai and spilled coffee all over his New York Times newspaper and jeans. That’s when Sylvia’s life changed and her mother’s sins became hers.

“…if Emmie hadn’t careened into his stool, spattering his coffee all over herself and him, we might not have said a word to each other. Isn’t that the way these things often go—an accident, a chance encounter?” This is the defining moment in Dori Ostermiller’s debut novel, Outside the Ordinary World.

What seems on the surface a story of infidelity and repeating the sins of the past, is a mirror image of mother and daughter tangled up in each other’s lives and lies. Sylvia’s mother involved her daughter in infidelity, the child keeping the mother’s secrets and becoming her partner and confidante, marking her forever with the stain of guilt and complicity in her father’s death, a burden she carried throughout her life. It is Sylvia’s guilt over her father’s death that sets the stage for her own infidelity. Sylvia does not directly involve her daughter Hannah, but when it becomes apparent Hannah knows what is happening, she ignores her daughter’s rebellions, thus involving her indirectly in deceit.

Outside the Ordinary World has the feel of a story often worried over like a callused hand fingering the same emotional chords over and over. The contrasting events between Sylvia’s past and present are spontaneous echoes, outcries for understanding and forgiveness. The prose is distinctive and well wrought, but the denouement is clichéd. Hannah’s actions are out of character and serve only to set up the situation that forces the family to come together when they are falling apart. The final tempest in a teapot is out of synch with the rest of the book and the carefully delineated plot and finely drawn characters as though Ostermiller rushed to find an ending. It is the only error in an otherwise beautifully written novel that reveals the fault lines in the tectonic plates of the heart.

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell