“Ordinary People” by Judith Guest

This month is all about being thankful for what you have, whether it is for a loving family or for simply having a roof over your head and food in your stomach. Tragic events that occur in our lives remind us of the things that should be cherished the most, and that is love. In the novel “Ordinary People,” Judith Guest explores the theme of ultimate healing through love and relishes in the spirit of being grateful for what you have.

This novel is set in the 1970s in Lake Forest, Illinois and centers on the lives of the Jarrets. They appear to be a typical American family from the outside but what occurs on the inside is completely different from what they portray to the world. This novel focuses on Conrad, the son of Calvin and Beth Jarret, and his troubled existence after the death of his brother Buck, who died during a boating accident. Everyone deals with death in different ways and Conrad’s way of dealing with the passing of his brother was through his own death. Before he could make this happen he was rescued by his father and ultimately sent to a psychiatrist. Conrad begins to see Dr. Berg regularly and forms a close relationship with him. Dr. Berg helps him get in touch with his innermost fears and pain and helps him overcome this by gaining control over others.

This novel also contains the story of Conrad’s father, Calvin. Calvin, a successful tax attorney, spends most of his time worrying about Conrad. Most of the chapters that are devoted to Calvin’s point of view contain mostly of his internal monologue that centers on his tumultuous relationship with his wife and son. Beth Jarret is an efficient and well-organized wife and mother who doesn’t seem to express her grief so blatantly as her son and husband and spends most of her time cleaning and picking up after Conrad.

As I mentioned before, everyone deals with death differently and all the members of this family deal with Buck’s death differently. One scene that I cannot forget to this day is when Beth and Calvin are getting ready to go to their son’s funeral and Beth tells Calvin to put on a different tie because the one he is wearing doesn’t “look right.” Calvin is shocked at his wife’s comment and seems perplexed as to why what he is wearing at his son’s funeral should matter. This scene gave me goose bumps when I first read it because it simply exemplifies the dynamics of visceral human emotions without having to explicitly state them.

Towards the end of the novel, Beth and Calvin’s communication rift widens and their differences seem irrevocable yet on the other hand Conrad and Calvin’s relationship begins the processes of healing.



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