Monday, April 15, 2013

Ordinary People, Issues Included

Published:  January 1st, 1976
Ordinary People
By: Judith Guest
Viking Books
ISBN-13:  9780670528318

The Jarrets are a typical American family. Calvin is a determined, successful provider and Beth an organized, efficient wife. They had two sons, Conrad and Buck, but now they have one. In this memorable, moving novel, Judith Guest takes the reader into their lives to share their misunderstandings, pain...and ultimate healing.

     A lot of people are depressed by this book.  I am not one of them and every time I re-read it (so far about six times!) it uplifts me and reminds me that nothing is ever quite so bad as I think it may be.  This book is about the Jarret family, Mom and Dad with their two sons.  When we meet them they only have one son left, Conrad, the younger son who has recently been released from a sanitarium after attempting suicide.  The book is mostly from Conrad's point of view, with some glimpses into his Father, Calvin's head.  The entire family is dealing with the loss of Con's brother Buck, but instead of bringing them together it's tearing them apart.  His Mother, Beth, is using every excuse to escape the situation with constant vacations and denial that anything is wrong.  One scene in particular at a friend's party, where Cal is slightly drunk and discusses Con's therapy, really makes her angry.  You don't share personal business with anyone but family, and even then you NEVER talk about it - that's her life motto.  Without perfection in her life anymore, Beth has no clue who to blame.  She becomes withdrawn and harsh when Cal tries to show any interest in Conrad, who is trying to piece his life back together in a way that makes him happy.  Which isn't necessarily the way his Mom wants things. Maybe Cal isn't as happy as he always thought either.  When he begins looking past the face value of the things in his life, the situation finally combusts.
     I loved this book.  It's an honest and hard look at the consequences of real-life tragedies and how they change people forever.  The family dynamic is extremely interesting, with Cal being the slightly hovering, interested parent and Beth seeming like she wishes Conrad would just disappear.  Conrad himself is messed up and after living his whole life in a house that kept repression and perfection as rulers (*cough* *Beth* *cough*) this is really the first time he has ever dealt with his emotions in an honest way.  As he works through the guilt, sadness and anger of Buck's death, as well as his twisted relationship with his Mom, we see him grow as a person and learn to let himself be happy.  Cal's transformation from clueless, middle-aged lawyer with the perfect wife and good son also is something to see.  He really starts to take off the rose colored glasses and feel what's going on in his life.  Dr. Berger, the not-so-crazy therapist that Con (and late Cal) go to see is what makes the book in my opinion.  His obvious contentment with life and it's ups/downs is the opposite of Cal and Con but it balances them out.  The ending of this book, reconnecting with the old while moving on with the new is beautiful.  One of my favorite books that I've read since becoming an adult.  Super glad that when I was nineteen the cover and synopsis intrigued me.  Overall and extremely well written novel, a character piece that is in the style of The Virgin Suicides or White Oleander.  It is something special that only comes around every so often.  I highly encourage anyone who hasn't read it to give it a shot!  You won't regret it! :)
VERDICT:  5/5  Stars
**No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

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