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Songs in Ordinary Time (Oprah's Book Club) Hardcover – August 1, 1995


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Product Details

  • Series: Oprah's Book Club
  • Hardcover: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (August 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067086014X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670860142
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 2.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (284 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,800,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Oprah Book Club® Selection, June 1997: A dark secret lies at the heart of Mary McGarry Morris's extraordinary novel, Songs in Ordinary Time. Rooted in the delicate web of emotions, lies, and truths that bind people together, the story takes place in the primarily Catholic town of Atkinson, Vermont, during the summer of 1960. Here Marie Fermoyle struggles to raise her three children. She already has two strikes against her: she married above her station and now is divorced from her alcoholic husband, Sam. That he is the town drunk and a laughingstock only further marks the Fermoyles.

Enter Omar Duvall, a confidence man. He comes to the door asking for bread and sees an opportunity. Soon he has insinuated himself into the Fermoyle family, promising Marie companionship, love, a willing pair of shoulders to share her burden. Twelve-year-old Benjy knows something terrible about Duvall, but, desperate for anything that will make his mother happy, he hides the truth. This silence gives Duvall time to bring Marie to the brink of financial disaster and lead her sons into mortal danger.

Songs in Ordinary Time includes a chorus of other Atkinson inhabitants: town cop Sonny Stoner and his dying wife; insurance salesman Bob Haddad, so enthralled with his beautiful wife that he's willing to steal for her; and Father Gannon, the young priest with whom Marie's daughter Alice becomes involved; and the Klubock family next door, who epitomize all that is normal to young Benjy. With these lives threaded through her bittersweet tale of the Fermoyles, Morris strikes all the notes of loneliness, hope, and familial love. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

As she proved in her first novel, Vanished, and in the equally compelling A Dangerous Woman, Morris can depict society's outsiders-people with bleak presents and no futures-with rare understanding and compassion. Here, she portrays an entire community, a small town in Vermont during the summer of 1960, and then focuses on one family, the Fermoyles. With no support from her alcoholic ex-husband Sam, Marie Fermoyle has struggled for eight years to raise her three children. She is sharp-tongued, bitter, resentful and driven nearly to distraction by unending money worries and her own shame at being a poor divorcee in a staunchly Catholic town. The arrival of mysterious Omar Duvall with his con man's spiel of sudden riches brings Marie hope that she can change her dead-end existence. Among the 30 or so characters, there are no happy people: in fact, at first, one thinks this will be just an unbroken litany of sour, wasted lives, people mired in frustration and desperation, hiding tawdry secrets. But, although the exposition is long and leisurely, one is soon caught in the web of Morris's narrative, particularly in Marie's manipulation by Duvall, who sponges off the family while appearing to offer Marie the love she desperately craves. Meanwhile, her children-teenaged Alice and Norm, and fearful 12-year-old Benjy-are out-matched by the oily Omar, and they undergo their own torments as adolescents shamed by their parents and miserably conscious of their poverty. Innocent Benjy holds a secret so terrible he doesn't even fathom it until it is almost too late to avert tragedy. Morris weaves the taut strands of her plot with remarkable skill, revealing how people with no financial security and few mental resources are controlled by others more feral and more dangerous. Throughout, she maintains the suspense triggered by a dead body in the woods, and she pries open a Pandora's box of secrets, including double lives and the hypocrisy that masks sin behind piety. This novel becomes more powerful as one reads, building to a heartstopping denouement, yet remaining strictly observant of the minutiae of daily life that give the book its honesty and pathos. 75,000 first printing; $75,000 ad/promo.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

I finished the book only because I kept hoping it would get better.
"rita0721"
I like escaping into the lives of ordinary people, but not to become miserable, I need no book to do that.
Jenny from da pahk
Aside from it being a depressing story, it had too many characters.
ELD

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
I purchased this book because I trusted Oprah's judgment, and I wanted a long book to get lost in during summer '99. Well, it is now February 2000. Through great discipline on my part, I'm finally finished. I feel gypped. There were so many extraneous characters, and their fates were never disclosed. Why introduce characters when they ultimately fizzle out? Why couldn't the author spend more time giving insight into the main characters? Reading this book made me feel voyeuristic. There was a lot of surface "dirt," and I was frustrated by not knowing what made the characters tick. The adults were despicable: sleazy Omar, irresponsible Sam, needy/abusive Marie (I'm no shrink - was she manic-depressive?), among other losers. However, my heart broke for the children. I truly cared about Alice, Norm and Benjy; and I was pleased that the story ended somewhat optimistically - for Alice, at least.
This book should come with a warning: Only read it if you're too happy. It's guaranteed to bring your mood down several notches.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Theresa W on December 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
If you can get through the first 150 pages, you'll be happy you did. With a slow start, that's when the story really starts to pick up & you start to remember the characters, there's a lot of them! I agree with an earlier reviewer in that there were too many sub-plots & characters.
I did end up liking the book, and I was VERY close to putting it down & not finishing it. I am glad I stuck it out.
The characters are memorable. Their plights, long & hard.
You will cringe with them when things go wrong. It's a story that is so believable it feels real. I see why Oprah picked it.
Just remember, there are many books that start off slow, but they don't always have such a rewarding ending.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
Talk about a con job! I agree, too many characters. It doesn't feel like a full novel; it feels crowded, and that's a big difference. And how in the world can we appreciate any of the Fermoyles when they are so busy flip-flopping between rage and mindless affection. Morris tries to write it in different voices, but the third-person narrative doesn't work for this. Any interesting characters (like Father Gannon or Renie LaChance) just get dropped. Feels like the author is vastly out of control of this book, and it doesn't feel like that was her intention. Even the few good sections get drowned out. I read the whole thing, hoping that someone would learn something, and I was very disappointed to find that not a single person in the book changes at all. What a long story to tell about people who never learn or grow or change. The bad news is that it will probably get made into a movie.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By B. Michael Harlow (BHarlow863@aol.com) on January 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
A friend who lives in nearby Rutland, Vermont, loaned me this book because she had loved it. I should trust her taste. I guess I'm a snob because knowing it was an "Oprah Book" and that its setting was Rutland, Vermont (thinly disguised as "Atkinson, VT") slowed down my beginning to read it; I'd had it for a year before guilt set me going once my friend had asked so much whether I'd started it yet. I loved it! It is not a layered piece of philosophic artistry, but the characters are so true and the honest striving of so many of them is so palpable that I'll buy a copy for my classroom library. These people are flawed, for sure, but most of them are striving mightily to live a good, moral life, especially Marie Fermoyle, whose kids probably see her as mean. But the novelist's keen and unflinching sympathies let us see a woman in a hard place trying to do right even if she does not always succeed. I found many scenes very profound emotionally, especially the scene where Benjy wants to drown [285--6] and the scene in which Benjy tells his brother Norm the truth [438]. Many of my favorite scenes involved Benjy, the youngest Fermoyle who just wants his mother to be happy, but who carries the load of so many secrets. I also loved occasional descriptions such as this: "Her perfume smelled of roses and wrinkled dollar bills." [502] The language does not often call attention to itself, but the characters are unfailingly well-observed and believable. There are enough psychologically complex but accessible characterizations to fill a family's social circle in a small city like Rutland. The book also unfolds slowly enough that a reader can really get the sense of the passage of time in the summer of 1960.Read more ›
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
I had high hopes for this book, but it missed the mark. In fact, I was hard pressed to finish it. In Songs in Ordinary Time, it's 1960 in Atkinson, Vermont. The story centers on Marie Fermoyle and her children, Alice who is 16 years old and discovering her sexuality - first with the Police Chief's son and then with a visiting priest, Norm who is hot headed, and Benjy who is 12 years old - ignored by his family, and can't quite figure out what the shameful, nameless "sticky warmth" that unexpectedly appears in his pajama bottoms in the morning, so he sleeps in a towel.
As the story opens, we meet The Judge, but he's dead. His housekeeper lets him stay propped up in the window, refusing to admit he's dead until he starts to get quite ripe.
The rest of the story is about greed, and the human desire to believe that someone can come along and solve all your problems for you. And how badly we want someone to solve our problems, that we ignore the fact that he may be a slick talking, murdering, thief.
This book had such gross and dark images that I just did not like it. I made myself finish the book, but it was difficult.
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