A story of family, friendship, and art—and the past thirty years.
The Biographies of Ordinary People is the story of the Gruber family: Rosemary and Jack, and their daughters Meredith, Natalie, and Jackie. The two-volume series begins in July 1989, on Rosemary’s thirty-fifth birthday; it ends in November 2016, on Meredith’s thirty-fifth birthday.
Written for fans of Betsy-Tacy, Little Women, or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the story is an episodic, ensemble narrative that takes us into intimately familiar experiences: putting on a play, falling out with a best friend, getting dial-up internet for the first time. Drinking sparkling wine out of a paper cup on December 31, 1999 and wondering what will happen next.
At the heart of the story is Meredith Gruber, the oldest Gruber sister and the one determined to figure out how “ordinary people” should live—because all the biographies she’s ever read are about famous people. She wants to write and act, and her younger sister Jackie wants to sing opera, and the two of them pursue their goals with both ambition and limitations.
Plot: The conceit behind this rich and immersive novel is that even the quiet moments of an ordinary life are worth telling. Dieker follows the lives of members of the Gruber family, between the years of 1989 and 2016, capturing with particular grace, the ephemeral essences of girlhood and motherhood.
Prose: Dieker's distinct voice is forthright, thoughtful, and charming. Structural flaws, including awkward shifts in perspective, are small distractions from Dieker's eloquence and humor.
Originality: The novel's focus on the telling of ordinary lives falls in line with a modern literary convention, yet the author's grasp on language and character development bring particular vitality to the page.
Character Development: Dieker creates realistically flawed characters with full internal lives. Characters have a tangible and grounded quality, even as their dreamy musings press them toward the outer edges of “ordinary."
Blurb: Dieker writes with unrepentant honesty about the human condition, crafting the story of the Gruber family with subtle narrative tension and the central claim that every life is worthy of a biography.
Date Submitted: May 31, 2017
"In less capable hands, the style could grow quickly tiresome, but Dieker takes her time establishing the personalities and relationships, encouraging a bond with her audience. In the end, the book succeeds in drawing readers into this quiet world."
The Biographies of Ordinary People contains artful writing and delicately drawn characters who navigate through the universal tragedies and triumphs of everyday life. This first volume is deeply satisfying.
"...Dieker excels at depicting how real people think and act. When she writes from a child’s perspective, she successfully portrays the state of knowing but not quite understanding."