By Vanessa V. Friedman
July 28, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Songs in Ordinary Time

B+
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In no one’s estimation have the Fermoyles — Alice, Norm, and Benjy — had an easy life: Sam, their father, who is divorced from their mother, is an alcoholic, while Marie, their mother, must support them financially and emotionally. In a Vermont town in 1960, that’s about as much of a curse as anyone can imagine. It gets worse: A con man arrives, a murder is hidden, an insurance agent gets desperate, a priest breaks his vows, and innocence of all kinds is lost. Such is the landscape created by Mary McGarry Morris in her third novel, Songs in Ordinary Time, a panorama of broken promises and small-town dreams. While the Fermoyles are the heart of the work, their neighbors, friends, and acquaintances all have their part, from the tired monsignor to Marie’s flirtatious, married coworker to the blind popcorn seller. Morris builds her world from the bottom up, slowly entwining her characters one around the other until you understand how each in his or her own way is necessary to the town’s ecosystem. Though geographically confined, this is a sprawling work: a bildungsroman of the hamlet. B+

Songs in Ordinary Time

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