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