No Ordinary Matter

No Ordinary Matter

No Ordinary Matter
Jenny McPhee

Lillian and Veronica are two sisters who have always been close, despite the usual friction between siblings close in age. Now grown, with lives in New York City, they make sure to meet once a month at the Hungarian Pastry Shop.

Veronica is a writer for a soap opera, and she often consults her neurologist sister on the correct terminology when one of the characters is stricken with amnesia or a brain tumor or some other soap staple.

The two sisters’ lives begin to imitate their art when Lillian decides she wants a baby. She scouts out her chosen mate, seduces him, employing purposely faulty birth control, and voila! pregnancy results, the father none the wiser. It gets a bit more complicated when Veronica realizes the unwitting father is the new “doctor” on her soap opera. The two of them seem to have a magnetic connection. Is it because of the secret zygote, or something else?

Family secrets and over the top coincidences abound in this novel. At times, I was annoyed by this, before reminding myself that it was obviously on purpose. There’s an exchange between two characters where they discuss movies that manipulate the viewer. The one says something along the lines of “I don’t mind when I know I’m being manipulated – it’s when it’s a surprise that I don’t react well.” This is definitely the former, but I still can’t fully embrace the manipulation.

I liked that the dialogue seemed realistic in a way that it seldom does in books. It wasn’t always so directly tied to the central conflict, but it managed to propel the action forward while sounding close to the way people actually talk to one another. For example:

“Maybe everybody is a novel,” Veronica said, pleased she had been able to get them off the subject of Alex. “I read the other day about how they’ve been able to encode all of Dickens onto one strand of human DNA, and I started having a science-fiction fantasy about how our DNA is actually literature and that humankind is some other civilization’s history.”

What a lovely idea.

Another thing I liked? Pretty much all of the characters, especially Lillian. She’s not written as the most likable character, but I just thought she was awesome. I loved how she tried so hard to project this aura of invincibility, but could be hurt by things just like anyone else. And I loved how she did unexpected things with her life and career as kind of an “f-you” to anyone you thought she had to follow some proscribed path. Go Lillian!

Jenny McPhee’s written two other novels, A Man of No Moon and The Center of Things, both which look pretty interesting. I certainly like this one enough that I’ll be on the lookout for those.

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