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Book Review: Outside the Ordinary World by Dori Ostermiller

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Outside the Ordinary World is the powerful debut novel by Dori Ostermiller. Spanning almost forty years of painter Sylvia Sandon’s life, the novel has a watercolor quality as the author brings to life the burning landscapes of California during the 1970s brushfires, the sweeping beauty of forests in Oregon, and the wintry vistas of present day New England.  With her rich yet subtle style of writing, Ostermiller appeals to the reader’s senses as she describes the tastes, scents and tactile experiences of Sylvia’s childhood and adult life. 

Outside the Ordinary World begins with Sylvia frantically pacing the floor of a therapist’s waiting room as her daughter makes her case against her in the next room.  Some mistakes are destined to be repeated and as Sylvia’s world falls apart around her, she recalls the events that tore her family asunder thirty years previously, leading ultimately to the death of her father. 

Sylvia was brought up as a Seventh Day Adventist but as her father distanced himself from the church in order to pursue his medical training and career, Sylvia’s mother Elaine turned to the arms of a lover.  Sylvia was burdened by the weight of her mother’s secret and terrorised by her father’s increasingly violent and abusive behaviour.  As she struggled to reconcile the chaos in her home with the teaching of the church, Sylvia swore that she would never become her mother.

Of course, Sylvia could not have known that the challenges of being a wife and mother would lead her to make the same mistakes and Sylvia soon finds herself walking that same illicit path towards temptation.

UK coverIt is difficult to do justice to this beautiful story with just a couple of paragraphs.  This is an epic book that begins as the Sandon family drag a U-Haul across the United States in 1968 and leads right up to 2005, when Sylvia has a family of her own.  When I first picked up Outside the Ordinary World, I expected a light romance novel and was taken aback by the richness and complexity of this story. 

Using the technique of alternating chapters, Ostermiller weaves together the story of Sylvia’s troubled upbringing with the events taking place in the present day.  With expert skill, Ostermiller leads the reader to the point where the storylines collide and Syvia must make the choice between submitting to the weight of her past or choosing her own path.

Outside the Ordinary World is the type of book that you can truly immerse yourself in and I longed for the scenery of the novel for some time after I finished reading it.  I enjoyed the glimpse into the world of the Seventh Day Adventists but was pleased to find that this was not a religious novel, but rather a compelling commentary on religion, faith, betrayal and legacy.

I would recommend Outside the Ordinary World to anybody truly seeking to get lost in an epic, beautiful novel and would give it 4.5 stars out of 5.

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About Mandy Southgate

Mandy Southgate is a blogger, serial expat and eternal tourist living and working in London. Aside from writing at Blogcritics, she blogs about travel and London at Emm in London, entertainment and media at Addicted to Media and war crimes, genocide and social justice over at A Passion to Understand.