In Ordinary People, Diana Evans follows two couples as they grapple with the possibility that, after years together, they are no longer in love. Melissa and Michael, the couple that is the center of the book, live in South London with their two children. Melissa works at home as a freelance designer and Michael commutes into the city. Neither is entirely satisfied with their situation, as the stress of raising two small children (and the unequal burden each of them carries) forms a barrier between them. Sex and togetherness are no longer a priority, and when they do find time, they just don’t feel the passion they used to.
Their friends, Damien and Stephanie, are in a similar state. They live in the suburbs with their children, where Stephanie strives to create a home of perfect domestic bliss. But the death of Damien’s father has raised in Damien feelings of unrest and dissatisfaction.
Although the novel focuses on the challenges of marriage, Evans works in ideas about culture and heritage, as well as the difference between dreams and reality. But the core of the story deals with what happens when romance fades and real life takes precedence. These are black couples, and their race matters to the story, but this isn’t a book that’s particularly about race. It’s just part of who they are.
Most of the book is written in a realistic mode, recounting in third person how each character feels as events unfold. But then there’s a sequence toward the end that reads like horror. One character’s fears appear to manifest as actual spiritual phenomena. This development took me entirely by surprise. There are hints of spiritual activity throughout the book, but I expected it all to remain in the characters’ heads. What’s interesting here is that it’s never really clear what is real and what isn’t. Evans seems to be leaving it to readers to decide.