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Ordinary Love and Good Will

3.86  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,016 Ratings  ·  91 Reviews
"The emotional and moral complexity that [Jane Smiley] uncovers in the characters of these resonant novellas confirms [her] singular talent. ORDINARY LOVE & GOOD WILL is an extraordinary achievement".
At a reunion with her grown children, a woman recalls the long-ago affair that ended her relationship with their father--and cha
Paperback, 224 pages
Published December 25th 1990 by Ivy Books (first published 1989)
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Go now and get this little book of novellas from Jane Smiley. It's only two stories and they just both knocked my teeth out (in a good way). Smiley's writing style is deceptively simple and straightforward and you start thinking, oh, okay, I know where this is going, it's all about family and loss and painful self-awareness, and then, BAM, she knocks your teeth out.

Here's a little bit from "Good Will": "It's still there when I come up to them, and maybe that's the problem. She is a slender chil
Aug 27, 2012 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First thing by Jane Smiley I ever read, at the suggestion of the Quality Paperback Book Club back in 1993. I had just finished a grueling first year in grad school and needed something not too taxing to transport me away from mathematical economics. I can still recall lying on the beach in Evanston on a Sunday afternoon becoming increasingly mesmerized by Smiley's characters in "Ordinary Love" -- the natural tone of their conversations made me feel as though I were eavesdropping. I revisited the ...more
Aug 30, 2015 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’ve been debating whether to dive into Jane Smiley’s Last Hundred Years trilogy. It’s such a big commitment, following a multigenerational family from 1920 to 2019 through three long novels. And I really didn’t love A Thousand Acres, the novel that won her a Pulitzer. (Not because it was poorly conceived or written, by any means, just that the subject matter is pretty dark. It’s a tragedy, after all – her interpretation of King Lear.) But reading Ordinary Love and Good Will has me leaning towar ...more
Ordinary Love = 4 stars
Good Will = 5 stars

So I could have rounded up the overall rating to five stars, but I didn't. "Good Will" is one of the best novellas I've read this year (and I've read at least a dozen!).
Peter Amidon
Oct 30, 2011 Peter Amidon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this about ten years ago after reading Smiley's "Thousand Acres". I remember that the first Novella, "Ordinary Love" was achingly beautiful writing.
Carol Catinari
Nov 11, 2013 Carol Catinari rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Carol by: Sara's Book Club
Actually, a 3.5 rating. I had a little trouble maintaining interest in "Ordinary Love" at first, as it seemed to be a typical family saga. But it grew on me, and by the end, I think there's fodder for thought.

"Good Will" was more interesting from the start. A couple has chosen a life removed from civilization, where they grow their own food and make everything they need: house, furniture, clothing. They have a young son who they are raising in their removed lifestyle. The consequences of course
Sara Warner
Oct 12, 2012 Sara Warner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary
Jane's Terrain

See, this is what a good author can do, lead you from what you know so well you would never even notice it to the utter mystery of what you are, what your life is.

In Ordinary Love and Good Will, Smiley begins with a story of a homecoming, and we see a family working through the strains of reuniting with loved ones. The peculiar estrangements we feel when meeting people we once knew well, after an interlude of distance and vastly different experiences, form the emotional climate.
Apr 24, 2013 Diane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“…I, too, have done the thing that I least wanted to do… I have given my children the two cruelest gifts I had to give, which are these, the experience of perfect family happiness, and the certain knowledge that it could not last.”

This quote from page 94 of Ordinary Love, one of two novellas making up Ordinary Love and Good Will, encapsulates a major theme of this virtuoso volume: parental love and the nearly impossible task of nurturing children fully as a flawed adult trying to remain true to
Dec 29, 2012 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
Pretty fantastic. Neither quite stands up to The Age of Grief but pretty much nothing does, and both would work fine in a collection of the three which I certainly wish existed. There's a bit of Richard Ford in here and I don't mean just the present-tense-first-person narration. Just straight-up marriage+kids stuff, same world as Grief, but a little more subdued. Really good glad I read it. I wish Smiley would write more novellas; none of her novels (or stories) have grabbed me the way these/Gri ...more
Heather Swartz
Feb 26, 2011 Heather Swartz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Favorite quote: "I have another image of the mind, any mind, no special mind. It is a wheel, like a paddlewheel, turning slowly, with a kind of ordered vastness, bigger than it seems to be, going deeper, and bringing up more unrecognizable wealth than anyone thought possible. Brilliance is like little round red reflectors nailed to the crosspieces, eye-catching, lovely, in certain lights dazzling, but little even so, pure decoration."
Jun 05, 2016 Paige rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Wow!!! These two knocked me out. The prose is elegant and simple, carefully constructed so that only the essential remains. Sometimes the dialogue sounds like a stage play, full of unrealistically long and revealing monologues. However, it wasn't too distracting, because the point wasn't realism but conveying the inner life of the characters.

Both novellas happen to be about the complexities of parenthood, which is obviously top of mind for me right now. Ordinary Love is about the conflict betwe
Apr 29, 2014 Dani rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed both of these stories.

Ordinary Love was a beautiful story about a woman looking back on her life and how her children were affected by her choices. I just loved the quote at the end "I think that I, to, have done the thing I least wanted to do, that I have given my children the two cruelest gifts I had to give, which are these, the experience of a perfect family happiness, and the certain knowledge that it could not last."

Good Will was about a man who wanted to have a life where he wa
Feb 26, 2016 Karen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had this book on my shelves forever and thought that I had read it, and perusing the shelves remembered that I had loved A Thousand Acres, so decided to give this one another go. Well, if I read it, I am really getting old and senile because I remembered none of it, but was riveted by both stories. I felt that they resonated with the "every man" and both were completely relatable. Smiley's writing syle is subtle but engaging and you always feel the hint of the foreboding pain and emotion comin ...more
May 27, 2009 Heather rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rating A-


Characters: In ORDINARY LOVE, Smiley got a little child-happy (five children) and I had a hard time sorting them out and keeping them straight in my head--two are never even in the story, they're merely referenced by other family members. I say, since this is a short story/novella and you won't have time to fully flesh out five children, their parents, a step mother, grand children, and two other men in the mom's life, cut out all unnecessary characters and make the others more ri
Mar 07, 2010 Peacegal rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 15, 2011 Maria rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first story "Ordinary Love" was okay. It drew me in somehow as I waited for something to happen. But the main character was quite self-absorbed, and I found her ability to love to be less than ordinary. She spent the whole story over-analyzing the break-up of her marriage and why each of her children turned out the way they did. I thought it had potential to be a good story, but I would have liked more from it.

I loved the second story "Good Will", although it was heartbreaking. As a parent,
Beth Hartnett
These two novellas tackled entirely different themes and even had different styles. The first tackled family interaction following one son's return from India overlaid with the mother's memories and guilt about an affair that ended up with her not seeing her children for many years. In the second, the author, while also dealing with a family unit, delivered a more concise, focused tale about parents and one child living "off the grid" except for their son's attendance at the local school. The se ...more
Mar 20, 2010 Rachel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am reading these novellas for the second time. The first time I compared them to one another, and nothing is as compelling as Good Will, so Ordinary Love came up short. It has grown more fascinating with a second read.

In both novellas, Jane Smiley makes these contained, detailed worlds with intelligent, intense-yet-self-controlled characters. She illustrates simple contemplations realistically, and she does not shy away from, or soften, the ramifications of human error.

I'm nearing the end of
Jan 09, 2012 Donna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my first reading of an ebook! I very much enjoyed these two stories. One was the story of a returning son, a twin, from a time spent in India. There were lots of insights into family as each person shares bits and pieces of life together, both as siblings and as a parent. Families are fascinating systems. This one had some interesting turns as the family members, especially the twins and the mother, adjust their relationships.

The second story was a very moving story about a family that h
Apr 23, 2015 Chelsey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Particularly loved ORDINARY LOVE, the story of a broken family trying to piece itself back together years later as adults. "Even so, as I sit on my bed and pull off my stockings and rub my fifty-two-year-old toes, I think that I, too, have done the thing I least wanted to do, that I have given my children the two cruelest gifts I had to give, which are these, the experience of perfect family happiness, and the certain knowledge that it could not last." GOOD WILL is worth reading as well, with a ...more
Kathy Lang
Apr 10, 2014 Kathy Lang rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book very much. The characterizations emotionally resonate, and the prose is
lovely in its simplicity. The first story is about a common situation -- an ugly divorce and its ripple
effect on the lives of the family members for years to come.
And it deals at its heart with the age old theme of the destructive
power of secrets. The second story is about a more uncommon situation --
a tight knit couple committed to living an unusual life and how that life
unravels in a flash. Both stories c
Jan 05, 2012 Robyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Taken together, these novellas provide a critical examination of the ideals surrounding both motherhood and parenthood, as well as the unintended consequences of parents' actions on the experiences of their children. The first novella explores the lasting effects of a mother's marital infidelity on the relationships she has had with her now-adult children. The second concerns the 'back-to-nature' utopia a man has created for his family and how this becomes problematic when his son comes to reali ...more
Aug 17, 2011 Phyllis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two novellas. The first, Ordinary Love, was an extended short story and felt more like a poem than a story. The second, Good Will, had a plot, a mystery, if you will. This second one was fascinating.

Jane Smiley's writing style is expansively descriptive. She takes in all of the senses and is particularly sensitive to those "gut feelings", the sensations taking place inside. If it were porn, and it's not, she'd be trying to describe how it feels to have an orgasm. Her descriptions of viewing her
This is probably closer to a 3.5 star. Smiley's clear prose puts a window upon two entirely different kinds of families in these two novellas. They ARE dated, definitely prior to the tech age- in every aspect. And also culturally quite a different mode of parental "eyes", IMHO. Novella length is a favorite of mine. This is a minority view, but I find inspection like these to a small group of characters far more satisfying, at times, then short stories or long winded philosophically laden plots o ...more
Jul 27, 2010 Kit rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the first story, "Ordinary Love", but was much more intrigued by the second, "Goodwill", about a man and his family living a fairly self-contained life in Pennsylvania off the grid. My urban self was intrigued with the whole idea of living off the land with no electricity nor plumbing, and bartering for things needed that couldn't be grown, foraged or constructed by hand. But, how was this life choice by the parents affecting their 7 year old son? They thought he was content, but when ...more
Jan 31, 2016 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two fine novellas from Jane Smiley. "Good Will" is exceptional. In both stories, she conveys the lasting domestic discord (and guilt) that results from a parent's (selfish?) decision.
Candelaria Silva
Jan 25, 2016 Candelaria Silva rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very enjoyable novels. In both, the settings, the characters, the normalcy and ordinariness of is well-established before the wrinkle/crack/drama unfolds.
Dec 12, 2015 Larry marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I registered a book at!
Dec 08, 2014 Alison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ordinary Love was fine, but Good Will was brilliant. A home-steading family is destroyed by the father's good-intentioned self-righteousness.
Judith Morris

I really like Jane smiley,but this book wasn't my cup of tea. It left me wanting more .I needed more of an ending .
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Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Smiley grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, and graduated from John Burroughs School. She obtained a A.B. at Vassar College, then earned a M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. While working towards her doctorate, she also spent a year studying in Iceland as a Fulbright Scholar
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“What?” he would say, practically snapping to attention. What I had thought to be of passing interest would now take on profound fascination as I read it aloud, and Pat would inhale it. A few hours or a few days later, he would give it back, in talk or as gifts—books, records, tickets to a performance. I would like to tell Joe what a peculiar and suffocating feeling it got to be, to be attended to so closely, to have every idle remark sucked up and transformed into a theory, to be made relentlessly significant, oneself and an enlarged model of oneself, the Visible Woman, always being told what she was like and what it meant.” 0 likes
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