Ordinary Paradise offers the moving story of a young girl's reaction to the early loss of her mother with its persisting consequences, as they affect choices the author has made with regard to her own family and future.
Laura Furman was thirteen-and-a-half years old at the time her mother died, swiftly and without explanation, from ovarian cancer, thus creating a rupture in the landscape of what had been a happy childhood that the author equates with the Great Rift Valley of Africa. In a family where no one spoke about anything messy or uncomfortable, the result was a repression of mourning to the point where the author felt that her own mother's existence was being obliterated: "Now it was as if she'd never existed—and if she hadn't existed, then I did not."
The difficulties that ensue, like the earlier description of happier times when Laura's mother was alive, are expressed in the clean, precise, supple style that has distinguished Furman's previous books. The book is not bitter; rather, this is a voyage of attempted understanding—honest and realistic in its depiction of the self-absorption of the surrounding adult world; heartbreaking in detail, but ultimately victorious as its heroine strives to possess the experience wholly for the first time, as a mother and wife. It is a powerful rendering of the effect upon the soul of an artist of the silences that often characterize a family's reaction to crisis.
Giving the memoir a contemporary focal point is the controversial decision made by the author in response to the statistical probability that she would follow her mother and grandmother into an early death. "No one spoke to me about the hereditary possibility of ovarian cancer but the bond I felt with my mother linked me with her disease. . . . Inside my abdomen (waited) patient black space that was not me and would be the end of me." This decision addresses issues of a woman's identity in a poignant fashion that the reader will never forget.