Monday, February 04, 2013

The Magic of Ordinary Days by Ann Creel

 When I'd headed out here on my wedding day, I hadn't realized I'd bought a ticket to my own history, a different one from studying Akh-en-aten and Horizon-of-theAten, maybe but a living, ongoing one.

There's an unofficial literary trope (popular in the Christian romance world; but also rippling elsewhere) where love comes after marriage. Mail-order bride stories, marriages of convenience, marriages to secure reputation for a woman pregnant out-of-wedlock.

Several of these are saccharinely sweet and seem run-of-the-mill: a plot we have read a billion times. Nonetheless, it is a romantic trope I enjoy.

The Magic of Ordinary Days is by far the strongest literary offering to this story.  Creel has a way with words, with simple poetry, that steals into you and whisks you from where you are sitting to the colourful Colorado world she is painting with her well-selected words.

During the Second World War, Livvy becomes pregnant by a soldier who seems to forget about her as he steals off to the front lines. Her minister father arranges for her to wed a shy farmer about an hour out of La Junta, Colorado. She can deliver the baby and be part of a respectable family.

Livvy recognizes Ray immediately for the kind and gentle man he is. But, also for the limitations of his experience.  He is a beet farmer and while he receives special treatment for his integral work (gasoline unlimited during fuel rations, unlimited sugar to sweeten the beets), his life has been a secluded and lonely one---made more so by the passing of his brother Daniel at Pearl Harbour.

Ray is someone who will love completely anyone he has to love.  This greatly put me in mind of that old John Knowles quote from A Separate Peace : "When you love something it has to love you back in whatever way it has to love."   Livvy recognizes his peace and patience, yes, but she is still waiting for life around the corner.

She tells us:  I had never run in my life in order to meet men or find romance, although I wasn't immune to those things, either. I'd always dreamed that someday love would come into my life in some spectacular fashion. Probably it would happen in another country, on board a ship, most likely it would unfold during one of my future treks to uncover a secret history. One side of me knew that these were the dreams of an inexperienced girl, and yes, I was inexperienced in love; but it didn't bother me.

Olivia's dream was to become an archaeologist and excavate the earth for the past. When her mother got sick and the marriage of her sisters dictated that she be the one to care for the ailing woman, Olivia saw her dreams shelved. Now they are interred in some hidden place as she is flung out into the middle of nowhere- Colorado, an hour from the nearest library, bound to a man she cannot hope to understand. All the while, she is aware of the life growing inside her and how the baby's presence will plot her securely to the land even more. In short, Livvy's life seems to be over.

What Magic of Ordinary Days works well at is creating a pyramid of several interlocking events ---some historical---some fictional that tier upon one another in layers seemingly simplified by the narrative conjecture of a well-spun story. The interception of Ray's familial history and the arrowheads and artefacts Livvy unearths around the farm gently nudge this taut symbolism onward.

Olivia is right to recognize that "just listening to the radio news is a study in history, Especially now" as the Second World War ravages around her.  To bring the War more firmly to home soil, Creel presents us with two Japanese American women who work on Ray's farm: Lorelei and Rose. Their pride, their normalcy, their dedication to the land and to try and establish their right to live as Americans as they always have ( despite the immediate racism and prejudice incurred by Pearl Harbour) are a welcome way to bring the War Front to the idyllic farm life.

There are several lovely nuances to the story that exhume history in ordinary ways much as the title bespeaks ----the enchantment and surprise one can find during the seemingly redundant circumstances that silently stilt our lives along.

The most important aspect for me, was the burgeoning and well-trained love she began to experience for her husband.  Can one teach love? Can one learn to love? Creel would have us believe that circumstance and time and the right re-jigging of our personal preferences to explore new horizons would prove so.

In the past, Livvy explains, I would've listed things such as common interests, mutual attraction, worldliness and higher education.  My freedom above all else. If I had found love, it would have had to be the kind that overwhelmed and overpowered all else.

What she speaks above is direct to her personal experience for Ray loves her completely and it suffuses his every word and action since his arrival. At one point, as they start to explore physical intimacy, Livvy describes his touch over her curves as that lining the rim of a delicate china tea cup. He treats and explores her very much in the same way she delicately muses and delights over her priceless artefacts.  Ray loves her because she is his. She came to him. He doesn't know how else to exist other than to immediately love his new wife and their new baby.

Livvy quite realistically rails against this consuming love, especially as housed in the vessel of a shy and awkward farmer, but the more she studies Ray and the more she learns to accept that she deserves something so wholly consuming and pure, the more she can fall into his passion for her.  It takes time, though

I wanted to understand his love, to see it clearly before me, to put it into a form that I could roll around in my palm and examine like modelling clay. Or I wanted to write it with words of reason and illustrate it with romance. I wanted to study it as once I'd studied my books.

Livvy's lesson in accepting the grace-that-bowls-her-over of Ray's love is the same lesson she learns in forgiving herself for the momentary lapse of judgment that led her to sleep with an officer on furlough.

Yes, there is a trope--- a trope that sews everything from Sarah Plain and Tall to Love Comes Softly ---the story of the mail-order bride or the marriage of convenience. If you love these stories and if you want to read possibly the best and most thoughtful incarnation of a romance budding from circumstance and acceptance, then this is the book for you.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Nicely put, Rachel. :)