Ordinary People is a heartrending, and at times heartwarming, family
novel in which “ordinary people” under pressure become special after all.
Calvin Jarrett is a determined, successful provider.Beth is his
organized and efficient, but proud and self-centered, wife.They had two
sons, Buck and Conrad. Now they have only one son.Buck, the older and
the leader, was drowned in a storm while sailing with Conrad, the younger
and the follower. Conrad held on; Buck let go.
Devastated by the death of his brother, Conrad comes to blame himself
and attempts suicide.After months in the hospital for physical and
psychological care, he returns, still guilt-ridden, to a home environment
that is less than warm and understanding. His mother does nothing to help
relieve his feelings of guilt; rather, she is concerned with what her
friends and neighbors will think of his behavior.Empathy and affection
appear alien to her nature, and Buck was her favorite son. Thus it is left
to the father, who is well-intentioned but often ineffective, to maintain
parental ties to the boy.
Conrad withdraws further into himself and away from his parents and
friends. Only as a result of psychiatric care with Dr. Berger and his
father’s growing understanding and acceptance is he able to rebuild his
self-image and self-esteem and to absolve himself of guilt. Conrad managed
to reaccept his former friends and even to forgive his mother for her
inability to show him affection and understanding-to say nothing of
The characters are so finely drawn they seem real. The story is so
carefully woven that the reader is pulled along by an unwinding string from
beginning to end, as in a mystery thriller. Principles of human strength
born of suffering are laced throughout the story.One is left with the
conviction that even for “ordinary people” under stress, there is a way out
of the darkness.
Guest, Judith. Ordinary People. New York: Ballantine Books, 1979.