Friday, February 26, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Magic of Ordinary Days'

Hey, everyone! Lo and behold, classes for me were canceled again today, so I had ample time to finish the book and watch the movie. Some spoilers might exist in this review of the book and movie.

The Book: The Magic of Ordinary Days

The Author: Ann Howard Creel

How I Found It: I read about the movie in an interview with Keri Russell and the story sounded interesting, so I decided to read the book and then see the movie.

The Review: And my fascination with the 1940s continues. There'll probably be a whole bunch more on the way. This one does deal with the war in a sort of oblique manner; it deals more with the homefront and things like the internment camps that were stateside, something I'd never known about.

Livvy Dunne has just arrived in rural Colorado from Denver to be married, by the order of her reverend father. Her father has pushed her into an arranged marriage with a man she has never met-- a farmer named Ray Singleton-- because Livvy has been abandoned by the soldier father of her unborn baby.

Livvy and Ray are married by a friend of Livvy's father, and Livvy is introduced to Ray's family, including his welcoming, maternal sister Martha. Ray is very kind to Livvy and eager to welcome her into his life, telling her just before their marriage that he can and will love the baby, even if it is another man's. Ray is lonely after his brother was killed in Pearl Harbor; Livvy is lonely after the death of her mother from cancer.

At first, Livvy finds it difficult to adjust to the dullness of farm life. Formerly an archaeology student on her way to a degree, she longs for university life. However, she finds some semblance of it in the friendship of two Japanese-American workers on Ray's farm, Lorelei and Rose. Formerly university students, Lorelei and Rose have been relocated to an internment camp for Japanese-Americans. Livvy finds solace in their friendship and begins to adjust to life with Ray, though she is somewhat unsettled that he loves her when she feels that he deserves better than her. Over time, Livvy learns to recognize how good a man Ray really is, though Rose and Lorelei might not be exactly who they seem.

This was a book slightly similar to Morning Glory, though the circumstances were different. There is the pregnant heroine, the arranged marriage, farm life, things like that. I really liked this book a whole lot. It was the first adult effort by a Young Adult author, and the author had a really good sense of pacing-- the chapters were short and always ended at the right place. It moved along pretty smoothly, and it really flowed.

The characters were also easy to relate to and pretty well defined. Livvy's conflicted feelings felt natural. Ray was a little bit of an enigma even in the end, but it was understandable since the book is in Livvy's first-person narration and the whole book is about her learning to trust him eventually. I would have liked to see a little more of their life after Livvy finally acknowledges how she feels about him-- what did Ray mean when he said he hadn't always been so kind? Things like that being left unresolved bugged me. Martha was sort of a stock character-- the "angel of the house" type-- but she was good to Livvy and that was nice to see.

Some things just seemed a little bit too convenient, though. When Livvy asks Ray what people will say when it becomes obvious that the baby has been born full term and that she was pregnant before the marriage, Ray responds the town won't say anything because the family is too well-established. Really? I think it would have been more interesting if they had said something. What would the attitudes have been like? Would the town have been accepting of an arranged marriage? What about the baby? I suppose I would have liked to have seen Creel do something with that rather than take the easy way out of the town not minding.

The movie is a rather difficult to find 2005 production by the Hallmark Hall of Fame. (I just happened to chance across it in a Hallmark store. Amazon and other places are gypping people by selling it at ridiculously high prices; you can find a regularly-priced DVD here on the Hallmark website.) It stars Keri Russell as Livvy (the poor girl is always pregnant in her movies), Skeet Ulrich as Ray, and Mare Winningham as Martha.

The movie kept pretty faithfully to the plot of the book, except for a few minor details being changed (Livvy only has one sister rather than two, and that sister visits Livvy in the movie, which doesn't happen in the book; Lorelei's name has been changed to Florence; Florence is the only one truly involved in the criminal plot towards the end). One thing that I sort of didn't like was that Livvy came off as sort of bitchy to Ray at points. When Ray tells her he doesn't socialize with the Japanese workers, Livvy sort of snips at him that Florence and Rose are educated and that she enjoyed their conversation. That seemed mean of her; Livvy was at least corteous to Ray in the book, and she kept her feelings of negativity to herself.

However, the movie really did a touching job of showing how much Ray would do for Livvy. The dinner scene at Martha's was particularly sweet, as Ray mentions that he read about Troy in front of his family, and Livvy knows that he did that to please her. I did miss some of the sweeter moments from the book-- Ray staying with Livvy after she has a nightmare; Livvy finding that Ray has marked their three-month anniversary on his calendar-- but scenes like that one made up for it. Ray still came off as the real sweetheart he was in the book.

I really, really enjoyed this story and the messages it has to offer. Some people are discontented with Livvy having to give up her professional ambitions in order to have a family life, but I think I disagree. She has found love and a family, which isn't something that archaeology could have offered her. I liked the theme of forgiveness, and the story reminded me of Unexpected Gifts in a way-- Livvy finds unconditional love in unexpected places, and blood does not have to make a family. Ray is one of those good men who can love a woman even if a child is not his own, and it really warmed my heart. Very highly recommended.


  1. Thank you for your wonderful review of the book and the movie. I feel the same way, it is perhaps one of the most enjoyable movies I have seen in a very long time. I thought the choice of actors/actresses was absolutely perfect for the characters and that the movie did very well in translating a book to screen. I plan to try the other books you mention. I lived through the time, the 1940s of Creel are very accurate. I understsand there may be a sequel coming out and that if so, Hallmark may also film the sequel. I would be very happy if the same actors/actresses appear. Hugs to you, Elaine

  2. Thank you so much, Elaine! It's so interesting that you lived through the 1940s! I also read on Creel's website about the sequel and I'm happy to see there might be a continuation of the story.

    Thank you very much for following my blog. I hope you keep coming! :)