Ordinary People
Diana Evans
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Buy *Ordinary People* by Diana Evansonline

Ordinary People
Diana Evans
Liveright
Hardcover
320 pages
September 2018
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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From the wide stretch of land at the top of Westwood Hill to the Crystal Palace Tower shining red over Damian and Stephane and Michael and Melissa, Evans acutely skewers the symbols of two couples living in the immigrant-heavy outer suburbs of South London. It is the night of Obama's election win. In the expanse of Crystal Palace Park between the charity shops and the West Indian takeaways, Melissa feels a hot bolt of love and a snatch of old feeling for Damian.

A series of domestic disputes set the scene. Damian and Stephanie are going to dinner at Michael and Melissa's, ostensibly to meet their new baby, yet the thought of a tense drive up to London fails to imbue Stephanie with any sense of joy. After the recent death of Damian's father, Stephanie has tried to be understanding with her husband. He mopes around, plagued with a sense that his life is wrong, that Stephanie is wrong, that the "house is wrong." Gazing out at the sirens and helicopters, Damian feels in a fundamental way that he's "living outside of his life and outside of himself."

How long will you go on living your life as if you were balancing on a ribbon? Michael is in his thirteenth year of marriage, but he's still not quite sure of his position in the scheme of things. He long ago passed "the one-song agony" and has made the decision to stay with Melissa, yet it seems at times that he's slipping back. He wonders whether he would be happier with someone else or on his own as a bachelor again, living in a one-bedroom flat. On the bus to Trafalgar Square on the way to work, Michael ruminates on how much easier it is to convince himself that he's not part of the rat-race, that he wears his suit with nonchalance, "with a sense of disconnection between skin and fabric."

Evans is a terrific manipulator, moving Michael, Melissa, Damian and Stephanie though to their final reckoning. On holiday in Torresmolinos, Spain, Melissa finally discovers two sides to Michael: "the boy, the man, the clown and the lover." As she spends her days looking after little Blake and Ria, she's angry over her reduced vocation as a magazine journalist. At the annual cultural evening at Ria's school, she finally realizes Michael's shortcomings, her worries over the extent of his child-rearing and the excesses of his past.

Evans intensely rolls and pitches the stage, dislodging stones of sadness once safely stuck in the crevices of everyday lives. That unrest is the key to Ordinary People's appeal, its unstable mix of marital drama, comedy, and cultural dissonance. The solution? Escape into adultery, of course. Michael commits it practically right under Melissa's nose, yet she suspects nothing. Under London's cloudy skies, no one is happy--particularly Melissa who is drawn to Brixton's immigrant culture, where weaved women dress to the maximum in shimmer tops, cute jackets and silky dresses.

Evans portrays London as a vast, dynamic, immigrant-centered city that is constantly being tainted, readjusted and attuned to the changing course of things and new beginnings. The bleakness of Bell Green's high street contrasts with Paradise Row, Michael and Melissa's house glaring out at them with its narrow face and its murkily foreboding windows tightly shut against the cold. Sometimes in the lives of ordinary people, there is a great halt, a revelation, a moment of change.

Near the very end of Ordinary People, Melissa laughs with jaunty hilarity that seems completely at odds with her predicament. When the truth starts to come out, it makes for the sense that none of these people belong together. It isn't even a case of antagonism or animosity. Evan's characters interact with emotion and intimacy, illuminating the intimate and profound changes we're willing to make when tossed by the tempest of life.



Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Michael Leonard, 2018

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