Sunday, February 7, 2010

Book Review: Elisa Lorello's Ordinary World

I’d like to welcome Elisa Lorello as my first book review for 2010. Elisa Lorello is as interesting as her heroine Andi. Elisa was born in Queens, NY. The youngest of seven, she grew up on the North Shore of Long Island in a musical family, surrounded by cars, guitars, cats, and a dead hamster every now and then. She explored many passions, including drawing, tennis, and music, but even though her interests changed over the years, writing was her constant companion. In 1995, Elisa attended UMass-Dartmouth (south-eastern Massachusetts) for both her bachelor and master’s degrees, respectively. In 2000, as part of her graduate education in Professional Writing, she became a teaching associate, and met two professors of rhetoric and composition who took her under their wings. She also published several personal essays and creative nonfiction pieces. This union of teaching, rhetoric, and writing ultimately became Elisa’s calling, and remains so to this day.


In 2004, Elisa began her first novel, Faking It. “I never saw myself as a fiction writer,” she said, “but I had this idea that wouldn’t go away, so I decided to write it just for me. Everything snowballed from there.” Since then, Elisa has written the sequel, Ordinary World, and is currently co-writing a third novel with friend and former student, S. R. Paquette. At present, Elisa lives in North Carolina, where she teaches academic writing at NC State. She is a Facebook addict, an Aaron Sorkin fan, enjoys baking, and plays Duran Duran songs on a lefty acoustic guitar.

For a fuller appreciation of Ordinary World, I’d recommend readers head for Faking It first. In the first book, 34-year-old professor Andi Cutrone has broken up with her fiancé in Massachusetts, moved back to her native New York, and wants to be a better lover. So after meeting Devin, a handsome, charming escort, she proposes an unusual arrangement: lessons about writing in exchange for lessons about sex. Devin helps her grow up and mature emotionally and sexually, and somehow one wants them to ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after … but Fate has other ideas.

Fast forward six years to Ordinary World in which author Elisa Lorello reunites us with Andi in a story of love and loss, joy and sorrow, and heartbreak and hope, with loads of laughter and amusing quirks. Andi (now Vanzant) seems to have it all: a tenured professorship at Northampton University in Massachusetts, a published collection of essays, good friends, a cat named Donny Most, and a blissful relationship with her husband Sam. But tragedy strikes when a drunken college student plows into her husband’s car one night and the world as she knows it changes in an instant. Andi loses everything ... except the cat. Andi suddenly faces a terrifying world and the task of trying to transform it back into an ordinary world. At first, Andi is overwhelmed with grief and her life slowly grinds to a halt, and then falls apart. She hangs onto the threads of sanity and the shreds of her once-idyllic life, trying to keep it together, be in control, and be the professional she sets out to be.

With the help of her friends, family, therapist and mentors, Andi finally gets a grip on reality and begins to claw her way back from the brink. However, she is not quite there yet. By chance, she discovers air tickets for two to Rome, tickets her husband Sam had bought to celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary … only now he is dead. But Andi goes on the trip and life changes in the blink of an eye. A serendipitous quirk of Fate engineers a chance meeting with former flame Devin, now known as David and a respected art dealer who wants to forget his sleazy past. Devin/David turns out to be more than Andi had thought he was, showing depths of maturity, emotions, sensitivity, and a level of understanding that perhaps she hadn’t quite expected. (In fact, he is just gorgeous!) In the turmoil of her emotions (love/grief/desire/guilt) Andi knows she needs love to heal, she wants it … but she hesitates. Now there are no boundaries, no controls, and no ‘client/gigolo’ rules to contain the situation. Devin/David offers her a real relationship, filled with love and commitment … can she cope with it? Will she accept it? Her natural feelings of guilt and grief only make things worse. Andi’s journey is spiritual, emotional, and physical, taking her back home to the USA, then to Peru to complete Sam’s novel as a memorial to him.

Elisa Lorello is the kind of writer that grips you right from the start. I didn’t know what to expect from Ordinary World, but it’s certainly not an ordinary kind of book. Her characters are defined by their words, actions, and thoughts in such a way that the reader feels as if she or he is inside the characters’ heads. Their emotional processes, decisions, and ups and downs are so real as to make one believe totally and completely in them. From the moment Andi reads her eulogy of Sam at the funeral, the reader falls in love with him. We learn more about Sam as Andi’s tragedy unfolds, and with each snippet of knowledge, our appreciation of Andi’s loss deepens. There are gentle revelations of their love in anecdotes of them cooking, being, laughing, and loving together. The author wholly captures the experience of grief. The sense of loss and mourning is palpable … the emptiness in the home, inability to cope, the listlessness that accompanies deep, tragic pain. The ache of love lost resounds though Andi’s words: “We were glowing, full of love and hope and promise, death nonexistent.” Something that touched me as a reader is that Andi constantly rewrites her original eulogy to Sam throughout the book. This is symbolic of her efforts to resolve her feelings, finish grieving, and begin living again.

Part of Andi’s journey is not just dealing with the loss of her husband, but also to confront and slay the demons of unresolved issues with family, parents, siblings, and of course … herself. Before Andi can love again, she must learn to love herself again, as this different Andi. She has changed, life has dealt her a scarring blow … but life moves on. Andi clings to the memories: she wears Sam’s clothes, she keeps a voice mail, she hoards his notes and letters, not wanting to let go. Ironically, it is Sam himself who releases her. The air tickets to Rome set in motion a train of events that carry Andi forward (albeit kicking and screaming). Andi’s discovery of Sam’s unfinished novel and her journey to Peru to finish it on his behalf is an opportunity for her to close the chapter on that part of her life. Has Andi got the strength to finally let go? The author creates a nail-biting, emotional page-turner that has the reader captivated from page one.

Elisa Lorello has a wonderful gift for engaging the readers’ senses when describing places, people, and things. I loved her descriptions of Rome (having been there myself). The smell of baking bread, the car fumes, the play of light and shadow on the ancient buildings, the lyrical sense of pace in a Mediterranean city, with such a different lifestyle. I’m sure readers will relish the picture the author’s words paint and run to book tickets for an Italian trip! Peru is on my list of travel destinations and I loved the descriptions of colors—browns, sepias, and greens—and the lush array of food that tempts the reader already.

This is a love story with a difference. A love story of love, loss, and love again. Part of me wanted a third novel (would that be a threequel?) but at the end of Ordinary World I found myself perfectly satisfied. Buy it, borrow it, do what you have to do to read it.

Find out more about Elisa by visiting her websites:

Elisa's website: http://www.elisalorello.com/

Elisa's blog: I'll Have What She’s Having

Twitter: twitter.com/elisalorello

Facebook: Faking It Fans

Buy Now

Faking It:

Lulu in paperback

In paperback at Amazon , Barnes & Noble, etc

Ordinary World:

Lulu in paperback

Kindle at Amazon
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