.."They are people of good taste. They do not discuss a problem in the presence of the problem. And, besides, there is no problem. There is just Phase Two. Recovery. A moving forward." (p. 4)
Conrad Jarrett is 17 and a student at Lake Forest (IL) High where in addition to academics, he participates on the swim team and sings in the choir. He's a seemingly well-adjusted youth, having been brought up in a priveleged home with two loving parents, an established group of friends, college on the horizon and even a few flirtatious love interests. But Conrad is anything but alright. The same goes for his parents, Calvin and Beth Jarrett, who not only have no idea how to deal with Conrad, but are visibly becoming unhinged themselves in the wake of two recent family tragedies--the accidental death of the Jarrett's older son "Buck" and Conrad's own attempted suicide just under a year ago.
Things are in a bad way for the Jarrett household which is shaky at best, the trio weighed down by emotional tension, more or less isolated from each other since Conrad's return from the hospital some months ago and at a loss to forge any continuity or mutual intimacy. Mom Beth scampers about, busybodying herself with a myriad of social functions, trying to suppress her still cavernous grief over Buck's death, all the while behaving in a passively-aggressive, even dismissive manner towards Conrad, the less-favored son. And while Calvin is openly warm and affectionate toward all, his own naieve efforts to change things usually end in failure. Though his one notion, getting Conrad to see a psychiatrist, does finally garner some feedback and, if not family togetherness, then at least some insight into what's actually going on.
Several things set Ordinary People at a level above the montage of suburban soap operas, semifactual docudramas or depressing after school specials. There's the integrity of the story, its matter-of-fact but not stereotyped people and situations, and its development of the characters. Circumstances don't change a whole lot between the time the novel begins sometime in autumn and when it concludes around late winter: Conrad's still depressed, Beth's still decimated with grief and Calvin's still rankled at the inertness of his life. The affluence of the Jarrett's surroundings is clearly apparent but never promoted as a reason for each character's turmoil. Pain, problems and grief originate within each individual and flow outwards; and though all three protagonists are provided with the opportunity to examine themselves, pinpoint the source of distress and push forward towards a resolution, not all are up to the task. (FIC GUEST)