Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Songs in Ordinary Time by Mary McGarry Morris

Just the other day I was irked after catching a few chick-flick movies with sappy, happy endings - you know the kind where the love is magical & overwhelming & forever...  Yeah, right.  That isn't real and if it is real, it's not long-lived.  How interesting, I was thinking, if a story didn't show the happy ending.  If the movie just showed the ending of that story.  Of life just stopping there.  Without promises of "happily ever after," or eternal love.  Or even of hope.  Hmm, how interesting, I thought... 

Yeah, I've gotten on this soap box before and I'm beginning to think my complex dual personality, maybe triple personalilty, or quadruple, etc., has me standing on several soap boxes because I seem to continually contradict myself...  Do I want a finished story or not?  Do I want a promising ending or not?  Do I want to know what happens next or do I want to have it linger in my heart as I ponder the outcome for myself???  Do I, do I, do I???

Once again I'm in a state of flux over a story.  This time it's Mary McGarry Morris' "Songs in Ordinary Time."  This book took me a LONG time to read.  Not because it was boring.  Not because it was thick (740 pages in paperback).  Not because I wasn't fascinated.  Not because I couldn't get my mind back around where I had left off once I picked it back up for my nightly read...  but because it was intricate and involved and moving and savoring.

Morris is a lyrical writer - her choice of prose and voice are captivating and suck you in.  She writes from every perspective: the innocent juvenile, the simple-minded servant, the haggard single mother, the defiant son, the emerging woman-child graduate, the optimistic drunk, the dillusional con man, the sincere laughing stock, the heroic bully...  All this, and more, woven into one story, jumping from character to character, yet never losing it's way, and more importantly, never losing the reader along the way.

Fascinating.  A writer's writer, one to learn from & study by & emulate, if possible...

But the story itself is disheartening and I'm pondering why Morris wrote it.  So many stories, so many theories, so many misunderstandings, misconceptions, missed opportunities... so many characters - some of them coming full term, some just fading away.  So much like life, wouldn't that be right?  People come in & out of our lives, some we're accutely aware of, know initimately.  Others are only on the fringe of our lives and we might remember them in fleeting moments to wonder where did they go, where are they now and whenever did they leave???  The characters, their stories, the events that wove thru this sleepy little town this fateful summer start and stop, just like that.  They start here, they stop there.  Very little reassurance and few happy endings:  loose ends are left loose, broken hearts remain unhealed, injustice prevails...  All the closure we expect in a story, crave in a story.  It's not here.  Instead, there's an illimitable, aching sadness.

But.  But, one thing I do walk away with from this story, these stories:  Life goes on, and with it, hope.  Even without hope, there hope remains, for to run out of hope is to run out of life.  Because life goes on and with every day that life goes on, there is another possibility for hope.

Hope.  I really don't think I've ever appreciated that word so much as I do now.


He was not sick, but fixed, immured in the vastness time becomes when you are twelve, when a month's events can flash by in a day, when certain days, certain hours, even moments can seem to last, to go on and on and on for weeks, indeed forever.

"Whatever he is has nothing to do with what kind of person you are."

Next to the chimney, dangling from Benjy's bedroom window with the tenuity of a tree's last leaf, was a black shutter, the only one left on the house, it's last touch of ornament.

"...because a lesson lived is a lesson learned, I always say."

Taste, beauty, symmetry were frivolous and without meaning for a woman who never read books, just newspapers, and those only to see if someone she knew had died, who looked at a sunset just to determine the next day's weather, who bought a cheap but pleasant print once at Woolworth's, then hung it in the dark corner to hide a stain on the wallpaper...  She had never been able to get beyond the thorns to the bloom.

"And once the spirit dies, the body's as good as dead."

But she was beyond that now, beyond believing in broken things.

"That's what this is.  The whole summer, it's ordinary time.  There aren't any special feasts then."

It was ordinary time, and there was nothing to look forward to and no one to love.

I will be a man among men; and no longer a dreamer among shadows.  Henceforth be mine a life of action and reality!  I will work in my own sphere, nor wish it other than it is.  This alone is health and happiness.     ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ~

"To be priestly, Father, is first to learn obedience.  And, I might remind you, humility!"

Hour after hour, the Bishop had said, year after year.

At some point she had to give herself up...

"Well, some things you want so bad you just forget everything else that's going on and even good common sense..."

But how could she explain this violent commingling of guilt and longing that left her feeling bruised and sore, without it sounding like confession, an admission of the worst sin, desire but not love.

"He said I couldn't stand the certainty and the deliberateness of success.  He said I didn't think I was good enough, and so instead of facing what I didn't think I deserved, I found a way to foul myself, to ruin everything."

"I've never been evil.  Just stupid and weak."

Better not to care, not to want, not to love, not to feel anything at all.

There were certain things children had to be given early and if deprived they would never catch up.


Songs in Ordinary Time by Mary McGarry Morris

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