REVIEW: Out of Play by Joy Norstrom
Gillian Campbell is out of patience.
Her husband is choosing his hobby over her. And the hobby in question? Live Action Role-Play, or ‘larp’. Larp involves dressing up as a character (be it medieval knight, banshee or centaur) and participating in imaginary battles for entire weekends.
Gillian is not impressed. She seeks professional advice and is surprised when her therapist encourages her to try larp. “Who knows? It may make you smile. It may make you laugh. It may even improve your sex life. How terrible could it be?”
The advice seems super sketch to Gillian, but she decides to don a costume and give it a go. If larp doesn’t work a marital miracle, Gillian will be able to walk away knowing she tried absolutely everything before giving up.
Will going on her own role-play adventure heal Gillian’s marriage, or will the game shed light on everything that is wrong?
Spoiler (Trigger Warning): Show
Dear Ms. Norstrom,
I decided to give this one a try despite not being quite sure what I’d get. It is funny and humorous but it’s also deadly serious since this is a marriage in crisis story. It really gives a feel for that, the middle age, 15 year sag when questions arise. Is that all there is and is that enough for me or can it be revved up? Or will it never be healed and we drift apart?
Gill starts out telling the story with complaints about Ralph’s larping. Every marriage has it’s little gripes of financial woes and who last did the laundry or took out the garbage but him choosing to spend his weekends in the woods with adults playing at being medieval or fantasy creatures? Really? She is of course deluding herself that this is all it is nor does she tell the full story to the counselor who gives Gill the creative assignments. Her friend Jas’s hookup with the hot yoga guy with the amazing bod also makes Gill reflective. Does Gill want the comfort and security of a well worn marriage albeit without the zest and zing or will she chuck it all for the excitement she feels she’s lost? Does she want to stick with the comfortable hiking boots of marriage or go for the sexy stilettoes of singledom?
Inserting a shout out here to say yay to Gill and Jas’s friendship. They act like real friends do with some goofy times, some fun times, and a lot of serious “get you through the bad times” moments.
Her arguments with Ralph quickly degenerate into stale old patterns despite Gillian’s “homework” assignment from the counselor to try to talk with Ralph instead of at him about his larp hobby. Which, BTW, she admits she’s sucking at. Then Ralph’s POV echoes that things aren’t great in Campbell-ville. I can see this couple disintegrating into strained silence after the explosion and then drifting on into barely tolerating each other like annoying roommates.
Slinking into her next counseling session, Gillian mumbles her way through the initial minutes before being pulled up short by remembering back to when she and Ralph felt like a team. Then she gets hit with her next assignment – to try larping and give Ralph’s interests a try. Maybe she needs to pull out her dragonfly pendant – the one that signifies a creature adaptable to change.
In answer to her friend’s incredulity, Gill reasons that maybe it will spark something and if not, she’ll walk away with a clear conscience that she tried. Oh but dearie me, the kitchen wench costume for her role as a non-contestant is a bit much even though the corset does hike up her boobs and nip in her waist. Giving up her modern amenities and necessities – really, no cell phones, wristwatches and you have to speak like Chaucer? – might tax her. An offhand comment from her beloved goddaughter puts a few things in perspective before Gill takes off for the campground. It’s just a hobby and maybe since a 14 year old thinks it’s cool, Gill might lighten up about it a little.
After arriving and being accosted by beep speaking elves – really, the odd ones to be wary of, she’s told – virgin larper Gill starts to settle in and realizes that these people aren’t barmy idiots. Some of them are actually very nice, normal and relatively sane. Just like Gill but sporting wench wear. I enjoyed seeing Gill make some new friends – ones willing to explain all this and help her out. A few of the men there even flirt a bit with her which she realizes she’s missed. It all brings home that she still thinks her marriage is worth fighting for.
But she can’t make herself to seek out Ralph – something which bites her in the butt when she spots him with her tall, curvy, long blond haired co-worker who snagged Ralph into this madness in the first place. Now does Gill really want to find out what their relationship might be over the weekends at these things? Yep, she just has to which goes spectacularly wrong. Gill and Ralph’s conversations–> arguments are painful to read but the emotion is intense and raw. I can feel this and see how the communication has disintegrated leading them to this treadmill of hurt. It’s like watching a slow motion train wreck before the impact of their hurtful words hit. They are words that need to be said, though. That should have been said and dealt with years ago and finally are.
A quick chapter from Ralph’s POV begins to flesh out what just might be at the bottom of the slow disintegration of their marriage. This chapter starts clawing at me emotionally. The happiness and joy Ralph and Gill share in anticipation of their baby contrasts to the strained silences and well-trodden wounding arguments that is their relationship now. Ralph’s grief is palpable though described in a quiet way.
Now what? Have they reached a cross-roads from which they can’t retreat? Are the cracks irreparable? I was seriously worried by this point. Resolution would have to wait for a friend’s personal crisis to bring Gill perspective on loss, grabbing for the most from life and not taking things for granted. I gotta say the final chapter almost shredded me. I can’t even imagine the agony of loss or finally reaching a point where this can be faced. Literally tears were streaming down my face. Writing this review almost a day later after finishing the book and I’m still choked up a little. It didn’t bother me that the resolution of the relationship is open-ended. I have my idea of “what happens next” and I’m happy and comfortable with it. The blurb might come off sounding like a rom-com but this book soon delves much deeper and ends up being a lot more than a jokey situation comedy. It’s raw and ugly at times but the end is touched with grace and forgiveness. I’m glad I read it. B+