With the exception of a short run, I did not get off the couch on Saturday. It was snowy and I wanted to finish Diana Evans' new book. The snow has stopped and I finished the book, so I've made the two mile trek to Sun Street Breads (I haven't exhausted the grilled cheese options in Minneapolis yet, but this one is hard to beat).
You've probably heard John Legend's song "Ordinary People" (if you haven't, watch the music video above before you read this review). It's a love song, of sorts, and describes couples with young children who are "past the infatuation stage, in the thick of love." According to Legend and Evans, this part of marriage involves a lot of fighting, forgiving, and then more fighting (all while trying to grow healthy, small humans in the house). Evans tells the story of two struggling couples, both African-American and living in London with young children. Love exists in both these relationships. Regardless, there's anger and hurt and words children should never hear. The main characters in the book, Melissa and Michael, have been together for over a decade and have just had their second child. As the children grow older, the romance sours. Far after bedtime, the little ones sneak into the stairwell and listen to grown-ups scream and break things. Evans and Legend both hint at the importance of forgiveness, though, and argue that real love can rise above this domestic strife. So the book, and the song, do end up as kind of love stories.
Ordinary People received mixed reviews on Goodreads, which doesn't surprise me. Many readers don't take well to plodding, detailed accounts of family or relationship drama (we saw this reflected in the reviews of Elif Batuman's The Idiot as well). With Evans' ability to sharply dissect domestic discord, she reminds me of Franzen and Eugenides. Forgive me for comparing this black woman to two white men, but there are some similarities in style here. I loved this book and contemplated giving it five stars. For some reason, four feels right.