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Ordinary People by Judith Guest

Ordinary People (original 1976; edition 1982)

by Judith Guest

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1,956275,968 (3.84)42
Seventeen-year-old Conrad returns home from a mental institution, where he was sent after his brother's accidental death and his own ensuing suicide attempt. To begin a new life he must learn to accept himself and those close to him.
Title:Ordinary People
Authors:Judith Guest
Info:Penguin Books, Paperback, 263 pages
Collections:Your library

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Ordinary People by Judith Guest (Author) (1976)



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Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
Last time I read this book I must've been in high school. I remembered some of it, but most of the nuances and details had been forgotten- or had simply gone unnoticed by me at the time. I did remember it was about this kid struggling after the death of his older brother, how awkward family friends were about it, how unspoken most of the emotional burden he faced daily, how his parents were drifting apart under the strain.

I'd forgotten that part of it is told from the father's viewpoint, but the mother is always described in third person. She seems cold, sometimes indifferent, accuses the dad of being overly concerned and too involved with his now-only son. The kid- Conrad- is repeating his junior year of high school while all his friends are now seniors. He became severely depressed after loosing his brother- in what sounds like a very frightening, traumatic incident (when it's finally revealed at the end of the story) made a suicide attempt, and spent time in a mental institution. Very little is described of that, but what is firmly shows how old this book is- the diagnosis is clear yet he's given no medication although several times a teacher or friend of the parents asks if he'd been put on tranqilizers. Nope, there's just mention that he received shock treatment, and when he comes home it's left up to him to take initiative to call a psychologist and go to appointments of his own accord. I found that surprising, honestly.

What did feel very real and relevant no matter what the timeframe of this story- was how people struggled to know how to relate to Conrad now that he's home again. Things are the same- but also very different. Friends are awkward. He tries to meet and talk with a girl he knew in the hospital- there were quite good friends there- and that doesn't go so well. He tries daily to beat down the anxiety in his head, to find the motivation to do normal everyday tasks, to focus in school. The therapist is odd and eccentric, but aside from that very good at his job as far as I could tell. I remembered from this part of the book the dramatic scenes when Conrad went in there upset and there was a lot of yelling- but during this read I noticed all the moments of careful guidance, of sound advice that wasn't too preachy, of how he helped Conrad figure out what he wanted to do and how to build himself up again as it were. And finally, in the end, to actually face the emotional turmoil he'd shoved down inside surrounding the incident with his brother. There's also some very nice parts about him facing down kids at school who are unkind, standing up for himself when he realizes being on a sports team isn't what he wants, finding a few new friends and even getting brave enough to ask out a girl he admires.

It doesn't have a perfect, happy ending. It's a normal family with some heartbreaking difficulties, and they don't come through it all in one piece. Some things are better, some are not. The realism of that is what makes this book such a strong read. (I was terribly bored with all the mention of golf, though).

from the Dogear Diary ( )
  jeane | Aug 23, 2020 |
This book approaches a crisis in a family from a number of different points of view. At first, there seems to be nothing wrong, but as you go on they keep mentioning the hospital stay. The boy missed some school and was thus held back. There is an enormous elephant in the room and it has to be dealt with by each character.

The book is good enough to draw you in, and apparently, it was turned into a movie back in the 1980s but I never watched it. Rather, I had never heard of it. Some people can talk about hearing the characters speak in the voices of the actors, but I have no such advantage. So it becomes slightly boring to me, especially when they keep beating around the bush with their issues.

In a sense, the title is quite appropriate. These are all just people living their lives and dealing with things. I guess it is a relief that I took this book out of the library rather than buying it. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
This book was one of those "multiple copies at the used-book store, so it's either great or terrible" chances. On the one hand, a bigger chance than usual: that bland, uninformative cover wouldn't pass muster today (yet I like it now that I've read the book). On the other hand, it shouldn't be a chance at all: the accolades all over the front and back promise this to be a novel I'll "rejoice" over, "a writer's novel, a reader's novel, a critic's novel," and of course the highbrow-wannabe in me couldn't say no to that. Not for a dollar, anyway. I went into this expecting a literary grandmother of Anna Quindlen; happily, that's what I got. ORDINARY PEOPLE is indeed about its titular cast, and the stakes of the novel are personal/internal stakes. The perspective alternates between Cal Jarrett, a successful tax attorney, and his son Conrad, eighteen years old and recently come home from a mental hospital. The reader soon discovers that Cal and his wife Beth "had two sons, but now they have one." What happened to their other son, Buck, is of course revealed bit-by-bit throughout the story.

The author's voice took some time to immerse in, but there's something almost hypnotic about the stream-of-consciousness style. (And I was not expecting present tense from a novel published in 1976. Interesting.) Cal frustrates me to no end, but Conrad makes me root for him. Some of the book's best scenes feature Con and his therapist Berger, as together they unravel what led to Con's suicide attempt and how he can heal. Beth, too, is an interesting character, especially as we only get to see her through her husband's and son's eyes.

This is a thoughtful, quiet, probing novel about things that have been explored since fiction began (living and surviving, guilt and innocence, facades and true selves). It took me a while to get through, partly because it's not about plot escalation--or escalation at all, really. It's about living life every day, even when only surviving is easier. I'm glad I took the time for this book. (Now to watch the film.) ( )
  AmandaGStevens | Mar 2, 2019 |
“So, how do you stay open, when nobody mentions anything, when everybody is careful not to mention it?”

“Depending upon the reality one must face, one may prefer to opt for illusion.”

“Grief is ugly. It is isolating. It is not something to be shared with others.”

“Without speaking now, without looking at each other, they sit on opposite sides of the small, cosy living room, the silence between them far from empty. It is hostile. Full of unspoken words.” ( )
  bookworm12 | Feb 27, 2019 |
1976 book for my birthday challenge reading. I saw the very excellent movie a few years ago, and it was hard not to insert the movie characters into the book characters -- and the movie (as I recall it) was mostly true to the book. I felt, however, that Beth (Conrad's mother) was more enigmatic and complex in this novel. A very good telling of a family suffering from the loss of Conrad's brother and Conrad's subsequent emotional issues afterwards. I can see why it was a best-seller back in 1976; I wonder whether it is still widely-read today -- if not, it should be. ( )
  ValerieAndBooks | Apr 26, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Guest, JudithAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Polz, KarinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Sonnett CLXXI:
But what a shining animal is man,
Who knows, when pain subsides, that is not that,
For worse than that must follow--yet can write
Music, can laugh, play tennis, even plan.
- Edna St. Vincent Millay
for Sharon and Con and for my husband
all their words, spoken and unspoken, being worth remembering.
First words
To have a reason to get up in the morning, it is necessary to possess a guiding principal.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Seventeen-year-old Conrad returns home from a mental institution, where he was sent after his brother's accidental death and his own ensuing suicide attempt. To begin a new life he must learn to accept himself and those close to him.

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