Songs In Ordinary Time
It's the summer of 1960 in Atkinson, Vermont. Marie Fermoyle is a strong but vulnerable divorced woman whole loneliness and ambition for her children make her easy prey for dangerous con man Omar Duvall. Marie's children are Alice, seventeen - involved with a young priest; Norm, sixteen - hothead and idealistic; and Benjy, twelve - isolated and misunderstood, and so desperate for his mother's happiness that he hides the deadly truth he knows about Duvall.
We also meet Sam Fermoyle, the children's alcoholic father; Sam's brother-in-law, who makes anonymous "live" calls from the bathroom of his failing appliance store; and the Klubock family who - in contrast to the Fermoyles - live an orderly life in the house next door.
Songs in Ordinary Time is a masterful epic of the everyday, illuminating the kaleidoscope of lives that tell the compelling story of this unforgettable family.
Mary McGarry Morris is married and the mother of five children. She lives in Massachusetts. She is the author of two earlier novels: Vanished, nominated for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, and A Dangerous Woman, which was made into a major motion picture.
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- Omar Duvall is known to the reader as a dishonest and potentially dangerous man. Why do you think the people of Atkinson are drawn to such a reprehensible figure? What does he offer people like Marie, Benjy, Harvey Klubock, and Bernadette Mansaw? Why do these characters refuse to accept the truth about him, even when it's clearly evident that he has lied to them?
- How do you feel about the character of Marie Fermoyle? Given the circumstances she's had to face -- the breakup of her marriage to the heir of a prominent family, the economic hardships she's endured, the scrutinizing eyes of neighbors and other members of the community -- can you sympathize with her actions towards her children, Oman Duvall, and her ex-husband?
- Although most of the novel's characters are flawed, few of them are truly malevolent. Discuss, for instance, Renie LaChance's telephone calls to women, Sonny Stoner's affair with Eunice, Father Gannon's affair with Alice, Robert Haddad's Thievery, and Sam's alcoholism. What do these characters, and their failings, have in common? What compels them in their actions?
- What do Joey Sheldon and his popcorn stand represent to the novel and/or to the town of Atkinson? Why do you think people feel so strongly about Joey, one way or the other?
- How does Morris use humor to offset the darker events of the novel? Do her humorous passages make you more sympathetic toward characters such as Omar Duvall, Jarden Greene, or Astrid Haddad?
- Why do you think Norm, who had been Omar Duvall's greatest detractor, is taken in by the soap-selling scheme? How does Omar manage to manipulate Norm's feelings about him, and why, eventually, does he fail?
- What does Father Gannon mean when he tells Alice, "I realize that my faith has become a wholeness. It's a unity of mind and soul. And flesh … I finally feel like a real priest!" Do you think he really loves Alice? What does she give him and what, in turn, does he offer her?
- Omar insists that he truly loves Marie, despite all the ways in which he has deceived her. Do you believe him? Do you believe his involvement with the Fermoyle family has changed him? What clues does Morris offer, especially in the final scene involving Oman, Norm, and Benjy, that affect your feelings either way?
- How does the concept of salvation figure in the novel? Which characters can't be saved from their own desperate acts, and which are trying desperately to save themselves?
- What do you think the future holds for Marie Fermoyle and her family? How has the presence of Oman Duvall changed each of them, as well as their relationships with each other?
"A gritty, beautifully crafted novel rich in wisdom and suspense ... secures Morris's status as one of our finest American writers."
— Miami Herald "An extraordinary novel ... a deeply satisfying story … There is grace and poetry in Morris's prose."
— USA Today "Songs in Ordinary Time is deep and thick as a long, hot summer, a fully realized world ... wrought with fearless detail … the narrative of a town reminiscent of the collective ache of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter."
— The Boston Globe "Songs in Ordinary Time is real life cruising small-town USA with the top down and the volume up. In her graphic, stiletto chapters, Mary McGarry Morris is a cross between Elizabeth Gaskell and David Lynch."
— Minneapolis Star Tribune Morris's powers of observation create a depth that makes the characters' dilemmas seem as real as the reader's own. The book is alternatively touching and sinister, but it resonates with authenticity. At every moment, it is all too familiar and real."
— The San Diego Tribune