Who was it who taught me about keeping secrets? I’m thinking a few hours later, standing in the narrow kitchen with its familiar cracked yellow tile, its custard cups full of buttons and peanuts, aspirins and safety pins. Nothing here has changed, including my mother, who trained me in duplicity early and well, making me what I am today–a woman who can walk this line, inhabit parallel worlds, carry a lifetime’s worth of guilt without flinching, hold a secret as exquisitely as if it were one of these Wedgwood teacups Gram still insists on using, though one seems to shatter every couple years. (p. 252)
I love this paragraph from Dori Ostermiller’s novel Outside The Ordinary World. In picture perfect prose we have almost everything this novel examines: secrets, duplicity, marriage, adultery, and over it all the image of fragility. For what is more fragile than family?
Our heroine, Sylvia, tells her story between the present life she leads as a wife, and the life she experienced as a child. Her parents’ relationship was tumultuous at best; although they tried, they never succeeded in finding fulfillment in one another. Is this what her own marriage is destined for?
It seems in many ways that she will follow her mother’s footsteps: in her attraction to another man, in her desire to be seen and soothed and sexually satiated. But, can these things sustain us? They are comforting for the moment, but are they able to carry us through to the end of our lives?
While raising her daughters, Hannah and Emmie; working things out with her husband, Nathan; finding pleasure with her lover Tai; Sylvia examines her past so that she can move forward with her future. Her discoveries resonated deeply for me, as perhaps they will for many women. Being disappointed with one’s parents, or one’s husband, doesn’t mean one is stuck forever in that sad and lonely place. Any more than adultery is the perfect outlet.