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Ordinary People (1976)

by Judith Guest

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,249366,967 (3.84)54
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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» See also 54 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
A profoundly moving, thoughtful book, Ordinary People takes a brutally close look at the dynamics of a family coping with the loss of a child. Conrad, the surviving child, struggles with his guilt and pain by attempting suicide and has just been released from a mental hospital. Calvin, the father, feels as if he has let down both his sons and suddenly feels uncertain, reeling from the fact that he could not protect his family. Finally, Beth, the mother, comes across as cold and aloof to her family and struggles to discover that not everything can be perfect and controlled.

Richly drawn, each of the characters feels real and three-dimensional. Conrad is, by turn, a typical, sarcastic teenager, a kid wracked with guilt over his brother's death, and a little boy who doesn't know where to go from here. His grief can be heartbreaking to read, but his desperate attempts to hide it are even more so.

The true stand-out, however, is the mother. Beth is a mystery. While Guest often allows us into Cal's and Conrad's minds, we never see Beth's thoughts; only the perceptions are filtered through others' eyes. Much of what she does is up to interpretation: is she truly cold and emotionally unavailable? Or is she simply coping with her loss by trying to ignore it?

If you have ever seen the equally astounding film directed by Robert Redford and starring Timothy Hutton, then you'll find that the screenplay was remarkably faithful to the book; however, the book has slightly more nuances about Beth's character.

I am not usually a fan of dramas, but this is one of the most fascinating, often painful, books I have ever. ( )
  Huba.Library | Jan 20, 2024 |
I wish I had the skill to truly analyze what makes the difference between a book where the author tries to manipulate the reader’s emotions and only gets an “hmm how sad” from me, or worse, eyerolls, and a book that has me glued to the pages and leaking tears. All I know is that this is one of the latter.

In spite of a story that is almost all character, with almost all events taking place within those characters’ thoughts and emotions and in their interactions with one another, and in spite of a present-tense, stream of consciousness writing style that might have annoyed me in another author’s hands, this story of a family fragmenting and reforming in the aftermath of tragedy absorbed me completely and wrung my emotions inside out. It’s been a while since I had a good cry over a book, and it was deeply satisfying.

Vintage paperback, picked up from my public library’s gimme shelves, where they make unusable donated books and culled books available to the public in return for a suggested monetary donation.

I read this for The 16 Tasks of the Festive Season, square 4: Book themes for Penance Day: Read a book that has a monk, nun, pastor / preacher or priest as a protagonist, or where someone is struggling with feelings of guilt or with their conscience (regardless over what). In this book, members of a family are struggling with their sense of guilt or failed responsibility in the aftermath of tragedy (Con over surviving when his stronger brother drowned and Cal over somehow failing his son when he attempted suicide).
( )
  Doodlebug34 | Jan 1, 2024 |
this is a really nice look at what seems to be a typical wealthy american family. from the outside, they seem to be "ordinary people" but a lot is going on inside the family that others can't see. it's really kind of a meditation on grief and living after devastating loss, and the different ways different people handle that and cope with it. the style can be a bit tough, as it's told from the perspective of both conrad (the son) and cal (the father) and it goes back and forth between them in a way that is kind of jarring. con's sections are often a little hard to follow, as well, because he is going through a mental health crisis and the writing can feel unmoored. this reflects what's going on with him, though, so it makes sense.

i liked this and found myself very much within the story. the only real complaint i have is the way the therapist spoke with conrad. he never would have said some of the things he said (that he thought of con as a friend, for example) and in a book where everything else felt very real, this took me out of the story a couple of times. otherwise, very nicely done. ( )
  overlycriticalelisa | Sep 7, 2022 |
It was depressing but probably good at the time it was written. It's a book club book for March 2017 by Karen gentry ( )
  PatLibrary123 | Aug 9, 2022 |
Cal and Beth Jarrett are the All-American dream couple. With successful careers and two outstanding teen sons, the Jarretts are comfortable in their lives. Unfortunately, life can change in an instant. After a tragedy leaves the family with only one son, the Jarretts must learn to move forward, but how? The loss of their oldest, Buck, is too much for them to process as each turns inwards.

Without the support and attention of his parents, Conrad, the remaining son, attempts to take his life. The aftermath of this second tragedy is an even bigger struggle for Cal and Beth as they continue to deal with the loss of Buck. As Conrad returns to high school and tries to navigate his classes, Cal & Beth are at odds with how to help. Will they be able to find the support they need to heal as a family or will the aftermath of tragedy be too much for the Jarretts? Whether you are reading this book for the first time or the tenth time, the ending will haunt you.

The Bottom Line: Although first published in 1976, this novel still deserves a place on your bookshelf. It's a quick read that immediately connects and stays with the reader. Guest has an innate understanding of the internal dialogue people experience when faced with personal loss, grief, and depression. Each character expresses their grief differently, and Guest did a superb job tackling a tough subject. Highly recommended for teen, new adult, and adult readers. This novel would be perfect for discussion groups. Additionally, this book was made into a movie with a stellar cast you won't want to miss.

This review also appears at the Mini Book Bytes Book Review Blog. ( )
  aya.herron | Aug 7, 2022 |
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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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Epigraph
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
Dedication
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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