Ordinary People Ordinary People discussion

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message 1: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:37PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sherry This is the book to discuss on November 1, 2007 for Classics Corner.

message 2: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:30PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sherry I finished this yesterday and I'm really looking forward to the discussion.

message 3: by Mary Ellen (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:30PM) (new)

Mary Ellen Already I can see that my reaction was 100% the opposite of Sara's, so I'm looking forward to the discussion, too! But I guess I'll reserve my comments until we 1) decide where we're going to discuss the book and 2) start discussing!

Mary Ellen

message 4: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:30PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie Well – I’m trying for the fourth or fifth time to post – it’s my computer having problems and nothing to do with the site but I’m frustrated no end with this persistent problem – sigh.

I read this so long ago and the last time I read it was also long ago – but the mood and the feel of it stay in the back of my mind so that when I see the title, it brings back all of it. I recall thinking that much of it must be similar to what the family of a school mate went through when the mother killed herself and one of the daughters discovered her. I remember the hush surrounding it and the looking at the girls and people trying to be sympathetic with no clue as to what it must have been to be where they were at that time in their lives. I’ve often wondered about this family since then.

I DO think this book sort of cracked the door into such situations and let the literary cat out of the bag for all such works which followed. I also think one must take into account the time period as this was definitely before families let any hint of such troubles be seen outside the confines of home. It was long before dysfunctional was a dumping ground for all problems familial – and much of what that “label” is hung upon today is not dysfunction but NORMAL differences in individuals – we are so over labeled these days I’d like to gag people who toss the terms out so easily – it makes me a bit crazy at times.

Okay – so that’s a start – and I’m hoping to have the book in hand this evening for a re-read.

message 5: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:32PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie The library did not have this. Seems odd to me but there it is. I will still try to lay hands on this in order to do a re-read. One more library to try and the used book store.

message 6: by Jim (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:32PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jim I am more than halfway through and hope to finish if I can just avoid other distractions (GO DUCKS!).

My main challenge is trying to overcome a distrust of the writer's sensitivity. While I am not immune, I keep feeling like I am being manipulated.

Maybe Beth, the mother, and I have a lot in common.

-- Jim in Oregon

message 7: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:33PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sherry That's very interesting, Jim. I didn't feel manipulated in the least, but then, I'm a pretty easy touch. I thought the characters were very well drawn. I really felt for the father, who was trying so hard to keep it all together, walking that razor-wire between his son's despair and his wife's hardness. Just imagine how awful it would be to lose a beloved first-born and then have to deal with all these consequences. I'm so glad he ended up talking with the doctor, too.

message 8: by Jim (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:33PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jim I guess that I find the situation inherently so sad that I am distrustful of anything on the page. Maybe when I am in a less cynical mood, I'll feel differently.

message 9: by Mary Ellen (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:33PM) (new)

Mary Ellen I think my response to this is very much affected by when I read it. Had I read it when it came out, in 1976, I would have found it very powerful, I'm sure. Reading in 2007, after seeing the movie, and many, many similar movies, I found it full of cliche. I realize this is probably unfair to the author, since she may have set the trend, and this might have been a very original book when it came out. Like Jim, I felt the book was manipulative.

The BIG manipulation, I think, is the fact that the author only gives us one "side." I wish we had been admitted to Beth's thoughts as we were Conrad's and Cal's. After all, Conrad from the outside looked quite different from Conrad from the inside. We only see Beth's icy exterior.

Another weakness in the book, for me, was that I found the voices of Cal and Conrad indistinguishable.

And finally -- THIS IS A SPOILER!! --

the suicide of Conrad's friend was so predictable. Poor girl was manipulated by the author just so Conrad could learn a Life Lesson.

Mary Ellen

message 10: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:33PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie Mary Ellen -- I suspect your post is spot on because I recall feeling that difference when I reread it even years ago -- but it was an extremely powerful reading when it first appeared and that feeling lingers even though flaws arose upon revisiting it.

I am more anxious to do a re-read than ever after reading e veryone's responses here.

message 11: by Sara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:33PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara Well, I totally disagree. Karen's "successful" attempt predictable and manipulative? Yeah, I guess--my own brother made at least a half dozen attempts before he succeeded. I made a few before I decided to try and find a way--like Conrad--to live. Berger even gives the statistic--predictable, yes, manipulative--I don't feel so.

Also, Beth's "icy exterior" is not the only vision we have of her. We may not get her voice, (and no, I don't find Con's and Cal's indistinguishable)but we do get other sights of her--and Conrad is able to see that while she may be limited, she's not inhuman.

While I think the movie is lovely, I think they are apples and oranges. There is a lot of subtext and backstory that is NOT in the movie. Conrad's troubles are not only because Jordan died. Not by a long shot, and that's what the movie implies.

I realize that everyone has their own experience of any given book. But I've walked this road, and I believe if you put up the resistance to the genuine humanity in a story, it says more about the reader than the writer.

now, have at me and my sentimental, naive ideas.


message 12: by Liz M (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:34PM) (new) - added it

Liz M I actually appreciated that the story is not told from Beth's point of view, as it would have contradicted the character. Over and over through Cal, Conrad, and through Beth's own words we are told how reserved she is, how she is afraid of strangers, how private she is, how unknowable she is; it wouldn't have made sense to see more of her thoughts.

I suspect Cal & Conrad can seem indistinguishable because of the voice used, relaying their thoughts with third person narration. I found Conrad to be more sardonic/sarcastic and enjoyed his internal comments about social conventions ("...Jarrett, what do you want people to say? 'Gee, we're glad you didn't die?' Poor taste. Poor taste." and "...anybody can do something crazy if he is stoned but crazy on your own time is much more serious, damning in fact.") while Cal is a little more reflective on the role of fate.

I guess I identify too strongly with Conrad and to some extent with Beth & Cal to mind the "manipulation". (Of course the author is manipulating the reader, what author doesn't?) There were moments where I thought the author was really clumsy, but overall I enjoyed story and the way it was structured. Some books I love because they are intellectually stimulating and really open me up to new ideas and ways of thinking. This book I love because, for whatever reason, it resonates emotionally in a way many better written books don't.


message 13: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:34PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sherry I know what you mean, Liz. I felt very "at home" with this story. The 70s were a time where I was a young adult--older than Con, younger than Cal and Beth, but I was very much part of the time when you looked deep inside yourself and tried to figure out things. I guess some called it the "Me Generation." I agree that to have Beth talk would have been out of character; I hadn't thought of that. I liked the sense of striving I felt from Cal--he was essentially an orphan, and yet he chose a role where it would have really helped to know what being a family means. I think he probably fell in love with a cold person because it felt familiar to him. He wasn't used to effusiveness. His attempts to balance out the coldness were sweet, I thought.

Sara, boy, what a hard thing to have to live through, with your brother and all. Tom's sister attempted suicide when she was 15, but thank goodness, it was unsuccessful and she didn't try again. What a feeling of helplessness you must have felt to not be able to prevent it.

message 14: by Jim (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:34PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jim Sara, I can certainly understand that your experiences would give this material a resonance that it wouldn't have for the likes of me. Even reading something like this would be more than I could manage if I were in your situation.

Unfortunately, I am stuck with who I am. For me, the book has a sensitive 70's feel that is beginning to cloy some 30 years later.

"You fill up me senses like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime, like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert, like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses come fill me again."

I used to like that song, and now all I can think is "really?".

Aside from the mother, the characters here are just a little too cute and waif like. Maybe the opening sentences are what threw me off:

"To have a reason to get up in the morning, it is necessary to possess a guiding principle. A belief of some kind. A bumper sticker, if you will."

There is obviously a vast difference between a guiding principle and a bumper sticker, and I am not sure that the distinction is always made in the book.

And then there is the date with Jeanine when she breaks into tears at the thought her parents won't get back together:

"He stands holding her; tests the feeling of someone leaning on him, looking to him for support. He feels as if he could stand here holding her forever. Her lashes are wet, golden in the harsh overhead light. He lifts her chin with his hand and kisses her. Her face is tear streaked, her mouth loose under his, turning slightly down. He never felt so strong, so needed."

Was this the night in the forest or the sleepy blue ocean? Or perhaps it is a "growing experience" where Conrad can get outside of himself and care for others? I am interested in the part where her mouth turns slightly down. It doesn't sound like much of a kissing technique. Do you suppose that it is to show she is sad in case the tears weren't a tip off?

Another factor in my reaction might be Dorothy Parker's "Big Blonde", another suicide recovery story that I just read. "Big Blonde" ends with "Maybe whisky would be her friend again. She prayed without addressing a God, without knowing a God." She lifts a glass and says "Here's mud in your eye" and the maid advises her to cheer up.

Compare and contrast to the ending of Ordinary People where we hear "it is love, imperfect and unordered, that keeps them apart, even as it holds them somehow together", and then Conrad takes off for a round of golf. It is all too healthy and well-balanced for me.

Not that I want to dismiss sentimental stories. I can get misty over old 40s songs or the Trapp Family Singers climbing every mountain to escape the Nazis.

I apologize to those who love Ordinary People.

-- Jim in Oregon, cold, but not inhuman -- yet

message 15: by Jim (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:34PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars


Just a second. The girl he meets at the mental hospital subsequently commits suicide. Isn't that the back story for

"Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone
Suzanne the plans they made put an end to you
I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song
I just can't remember who to send it to

I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again"

Is this a 70s book or what?

Jim in Oregon, as the clouds of cynicism descend -- no fire, no rain, just clouds

OK OK I actually like that song.

message 16: by Mary Ellen (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:34PM) (new)

Mary Ellen Sara, I'm sorry you found my response to the book offensive. Like Jim, I think I would have a very different response had I your experience. But let me clarify:

when I said the suicide of Karen was both predictable & manipulative, I meant that it was predictable for this genre -- the minor character who dies so the hero can learn a lesson. And manipulative of the author, not of Karen.

The idea that it would not be "in character" for us to be inside Beth's head is interesting, but not quite on target, I think. Cal and Conrad are not knowingly sharing their innermost feelings with us (I agree that this would surely be uncharacteristic of Beth!). They are simply thinking, and the author is writing down what they think. Presumably, Beth thinks too, and so the author could have done the same for her. It would be interesting to know what shaped her. Her parents seem like nice people (if her mother is a bit overbearing) and her brother a sweet guy. What happened to her?

BTW Jim, thanks for a few laughs. I admit to loving John Denver in the 70's!

Mary Ellen

message 17: by Jim (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:34PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jim Sara,

I am so sorry. I really didn't mean offend you. I was just trying to explain how the book struck me, and not to invalidate your response or to render a definitive judgement.

Hopefully, you will reconsider your departure.

-- Jim

message 18: by Ruth (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:36PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ruth Picked this up from the library yesterday about noon. Finished it by evening. It was a quick read. I say this not to praise my reading speed, but to say that this means it’s smoothly written. No bumps, no complexities, no awkwardnesses. But then again no language that makes you want to slow down, go back and read it again. Workmanlike writing, but not inspiring.

You couldn’t prove it by me that this was groundbreaking fiction. Was it really? When I think back, there are just too many books cluttered around my reading horizon for me to remember what came after what. I wouldn’t think this book would go down in the annals as a classic, tho—wouldn’t sit there beside Wuthering Heights or Ulysses or even MFK Fisher.

That said, I enjoyed the read, although I was not deeply touched. Perhaps I should have been, as I’ve been touched both by suicide and by mental illness in the family. I wish I could figure out why this didn’t hit a deep chord.

What I did find interesting, indeed what I think saves the book, is Guest’s ability to get inside Conrad’s mind. I have a stepson who has developed a similar mental illness, and I kept saying to myself, so this is what it’s like. It doesn’t matter that my stepson is in his fifties, Conrad’s feelings extend beyond teenage angst. Guest did a remarkable job in this aspect.

Conrad’s persona was delightful. I loved his insightful wisecracks. And that psychiatrist was a hoot. Would we could all find a guy like that when we need him.


message 19: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sherry Ruth, I have no idea whether this was ground-breaking fiction for its day or not. I found this bit on Sparknotes which I think is interesting.



"The second structural tactic of the novel is that it begins in a world that is already in some way ruined: Buck has already died, and Conrad has already tried to commit suicide even before the first chapter opens. On the one hand, this indicates that the book is a novel about healing and rebuilding a ruined world, rather than about how that world got ruined in the first place. This structure, however, also gives the book a reverse coming-of-age feel. There are countless children's books about boys who begin the novel as innocent kids and after a series of life experiences end the novel as slightly more mature and wiser young adults (Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye are examples.) Ordinary People tells a coming-of-age story backwards. Conrad has already been through his moment of great experience--the death of Buck--and the novel is really the story of how he tries to move on from that horrible moment back to a state of some youthful innocence once again. Ordinary People is in this sense a subversion of one of the most oft-used forms of narrative in English literature."

So maybe the idea of a "reverse coming-of-age" was new. Sounds like the author of this article thinks so.

message 20: by Ruth (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ruth That's interesting, Sherry. I wonder if anybody else here can think of another book that begins "after the fact."


message 21: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie Okay – glad to see a bit more discussion happening on this one because you will not believe what I found – an old newspaper article which I kept concerning the story – controversial stuff – I will get some bits of it transcribed here as soon as I can find the time – but I couldn’t believe the serendipity of that clip turning up NOW of all times. Heck, I’d forgotten I clipped it out of course – but it doesn’t surprise me that I had done so. This book was a strong one for me when I first read it and the film kinda muddied the waters for me back then – though I’ve mellowed a bit concerning that.

I’ll be back later with the goods. ;-)

message 22: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sherry Sounds intriguing, Dottie. I can't wait to see what that clipping is.

message 23: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie Well, glory be – this is no little article tucked inside on a book page either. This is the Tuesday, May 31, 1994 front page of the LATimes, Orange County Edition (which was once a very good thing) and the bold headline is Book Offers Lessons, Even as Battles Go On

Sub headline Education: “Ordinary People," targeted by censors, touches young lives at one la Palma high school.

Jodi Wilgoren Times Staff Writer is the byline

The gist of this is a teacher using the book and the language causing giggles among other things – but the point is made she has been teaching the book for more than a decade so that would be around 1984 and that for over a decade others have been telling teachers not to use the book.

”Ordinary People” is among the most frequently challenged books nationwide, says the Washington-based public interest group People for the American Way. Last year, California led the nation with more censorship stuggles than any other state – including one concerning “Ordinary People” in the Anaheim school district.
To delve beneath the political debate, The Time spent a month studying the book alongside (the teacher’s) students. A reporter watched the classroom sessions, then read student’s personal reflections in daily journals, essays and poems exploring the characters’ feelings.

Interesting and raises other issues perhaps?

…Racked with guilt over Buck’s death, the teen slits his wrist, leaving blood in the bathroom and himself in a psychiatric hospital. Despite problems communicating with his harried tax-attorney father and self-centered socialite mother, the boy survives. But it remains unclear whether the family will.

So what’s the big fuss?

Well, there’s the frank talk about suicide. Fights between parent and child, including some harsh back talk. Musings about masturbation and premarital intercourse between Conrad and his girlfriend. Plus the teenagers in the book talk like teen-agers, which means slang and swear words.

Okay – so slang and “swearwords”? Do we see that even in 1994 there is still some reluctance with terminology? Swearwords?? I lived with and worked with teens and younger than teens -- they used foul language in my opinion not "swear" words. Do we wonder that in 1976 the book had a big impression on the general society – whose who read it?

The parent who led the local protest against the book’s use in classes had twenty-six reasons for doing so – topped by language, sexuality and suicide. Oh, and she thought the book was also boring. Fortunately (MY opinion) the Anaheim board and the CA Dept of Education both rejected the idea of banning the use of the book.

The article goes on to detail the teacher’s approaches and utilization of the topics from the book – one being there are no ordinary people – because while each may be ordinary they are also extraordinary – and it pointed out that while it took a while for the students to get started and get into the reading that they ended by talking about their own experiences and families and concerns. At the close of the time spent on the book a psychologist comes in for a day to talk about common myths about those who talk of suicide not actually being serious for example. As it turned out one student had a friend who had shot himself and died – while another’s journal entries revealed she’d tried to commit suicide more than once in the past.

The kids got past the 1970’s suburbia thing and found out it realted to them in 1990’s suburbia. The teacher also said that the fuss over the book just offers the chance to teach still other lessons about standing up for your beliefs as to what is right.

Here are the closing paragraphs of the article.

Nearly 20 years after it was published, author Guest is surprised that “Ordinary People” is still making headlines, especially for the language.

“The themes in the book are way more threatening than the language,” Guest said of the book that earned a prestigious award for “best first novel” of 1976.

“The process of [Conrad’s:] recovery is also the story of his autonomy, learning that neither of his parents are perfect, and learning that he can’t keep living by these rules that he doesn’t believe in,” Guest explained. “That is the kind of material that some people think is subversive and threatening – you can cover that all by complaining about the language.”

message 24: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie I must add that this article which, as I say, was front page -- a quarter height double column piece smack in the center with the headline on the fold – went inside to a two page spread which included some photos and some excerpts from the students journals and some other commentaries related to the topics. This had to have been quite a fight over the book being used – a double catch for my interest – the teaching aspect and the reader of books -- not to mention my own strong reaction to this book at the time I’d read it .. Books are a basis for learning about life – for learning other methods for dealing with life.

While I guess it doesn’t help clarify the ground-breaking status of the book – I was glad to see a bit of Guest herself surface in the quotes in those closing paragraphs.

message 25: by Ruth (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ruth Thanks, Dottie. That was interesting. I can see that it would be a very good book to get teenagers thinking.


message 26: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sherry Thanks, Dottie. That was very interesting. It amazes me what people think they can "protect" their teenagers from. As if they were bubble boys and girls who would die of infection if they heard the good ole F word or found out other people besides themselves had ever done the M thing. And I had to laugh at the mom who objected to all those swear words and talk of suicide AND said the book was boring. Huh? Methinks maybe she was a Beth in disguise.

message 27: by Candy (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:59PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Candy Well, I'm late to the party.

I got a copy at last..wondering how it would feel to read a book of which the movie had been such an incredible influence on my life. I was really excited to discuss this one with Sara.

I loved this story and was so amazed reading the book how Redford had made it into a movie. It's more than a movie for me and many fans. It's one of the first times I saw a person like Moore's character portrayed...and to learn that what it might be like for a child to survive being raised by a narcisist and sociopath...even though no one says it out loud and the focus is on Conrad's "mental illness".

Moore's character I found in the novel reflective of a previous generation and mindset too. Something I hadn't felt when I saw the movie...as I saw her more as a icy parent rather than a metaphor.

I'ts incredible to me how when I first encountered this movie...I was not familiar with the kind of therapy the boy recieves the kind of way the family could have healed but more likely keeps fragmenting.

And...I am surprised that so many years of public awareness...Oprah, Phil donohue, school social programs inserted for post tramatic stress disorder that ...

well emotional breakdowns, coming of age, teen love, suicide, mental illness, narcisist personality disorder, fragmented families, childhood death...

could be laughed about and still continue to have stigma...when I tahnk the Buddha every day for therapy that helped me when I was a teen and young woman...and the influence of this story on me being open minded.

I can understand not likeing a novel...for sure, and I can see maybe it seems sentimental and old fashioned for some readers...but Moore's personality and icy stoicism lives on in the folks who sneer at other people's weaknesses.

It is unbelieably difficult to find recovery from mental states like the character Conrad with a society that is made icy like her persona.

You know...I still remember The Rolling Stone cover that came out the week of this movie's release...it had Mary Tyler Moore on the cover ina yellow pant suit. At the end of the article...there was a footnote...that her son had died of "accidental gunshot wound"...

...it was devastating to read such and wonder how she could have survived such a suicide and laid against her portrayal. I always hoped she didn't admire the woman she played in the movie...or she might not survive herself...

message 28: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:00PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie Okay -- to quote Professor Henry Higgins --"damn, damn, damn, damn, damn..." but I'm not talking about why can't a woman be more like a man -- I'm talking about why can't I have gotten my hands on this book yet!!! I don't think the character of the mother was narcissistic nor socipathic nor an icy stoic. I think the actions or lack of which led you to name her as such were set off by the loss of the son -- and the attempt by Conrad to take his own life solidified the traits. Her own temprament as described would tend to her not talking and not being emotionally outgoing or open but with that double whammy it became a situation which pushed her to the brink herself -- she was unraveling from her own point of view -- granted she was wound a bit tighter than some to begin so unraveling may have been a step in a good direction but not to someone who just doesn't function that way to begin.

I'm just rambling and can't be exact because I can't find a copy of the @#$%^%&* book -- sorry.

But I LOVED this book (way back there when it came out and I have to say that the film had me babbling with the changes it seemed to have made -- though it was good in its own right, I felt it missed the mark regarding the book.

Cnady -- I also think that while there is more openess offically about these things that those who find themselves dealing with them still fall into the same camps as always -- and those who feel ashamed of having these problems will never speak freely of them nor view them as just the same as a physical ailment -- it isn't going to happen I don't believe. And there are still those who will use any reliance upon a pill to equalize oneself as having admitted to being less than a reasonable human and wield the kn owledge of a person's having taken meds as a weapon -- they might say it's a joke or just kidding if pushed in public -- but they aren't joking or kidding when they point blank ask someone who took a year long round of meds -- what are you taking now that's got your mind screwed up? I've seen and heard it -- people like that make those who feel ashamed to begin with more afraid and less likely to accept help if it's needed again down the line.

Yee gods -- I'm on a rnat there -- but this book and the topics raise strong feelings for me and always have.

message 29: by Mary Ellen (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:01PM) (new)

Mary Ellen Dottie, I agree that Beth was not sociopathic or narcissistic (in a clinical sense). I've worked w/folks who have "narcissistic personality disorder" and they could not maintain the social network that Beth has in the book. The author made it very clear that Beth was a big hit socially. Everyone in her tennis club thought she was terrific, a great organizer, etc., etc. Narcissistic folks are that way all the time; they think none of the inconvenient rules ever apply to them, they have a wildly inappropriate sense of entitlement in every situation. In short, no one would want to be their doubles partner.

That said, Beth certainly had some issues. When her kids were toddlers, they learned not to make a mess in the house so Mommy wouldn't "lose it." And she was narcissistic in the sense that she judged everything on the basis of how it affected her. She says that she'll "never forgive" Conrad for having attempted suicide .... wow. And he knows it. (Much more perceptive than his father, I think.)

I don't think Conrad is suffering from a major mental illness, either, unless it is PTSD. He was depressed, but that was a depression occasioned by a major tragedy and exacerbated by the dysfunction of both his parents. He has to undo destructive behavior and thought patterns that he developed in response to his bad family situation. He has to learn, essentially, to live with the deficits of his mother in particular, and stop blaming/punishing himself for her rejection.

This book came out in 1976, and if it is set in that same year, then Buck and I are contemporaries. When I was in high school (graduated 1974), there were some very popular books about people living with mental illness. "Lisa and David" was one, IIRC. If OP was groundbreaking, it was not because no one had written about mental illness before. It was because, as her title suggests, she was setting her domestic tragedy in an "ordinary" family, reminding us of the uncomfortable truth that none of us is perfectly "together."

Mary Ellen

message 30: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:02PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie I remember Lisa and David also -- that made quite a stir of its own IIRC. And I think you hit it right on that the true stir of OP was in bringing suicide and the other "flaws of behavior to everyone's own doorstep -- these were just the regular upper climbing suburban family like so many others of the times -- ordinary life, ordinary people and a major explosion of horrendous events and the aftermath to be dealt with -- how?

Hubby's off to the used bookstore and then to the library -- when he gets back I will hope he has a copy of this for me. I'm trusting my great used book spot as a last resort and crossing fingers and toes.

message 31: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:02PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie Success FINALLY I have a copy of the book to read! And I'm wondering why OP dropped off our group shelf -- hopefully it was inadvertantly dropped when the new books were added -- maybe there is a limit to the number of books on group designated shelves?

message 32: by Mary Ellen (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:06PM) (new)

Mary Ellen So, Dottie, did you get a chance to re-read? I'm looking forward to your responses!

Mary Ellen

message 33: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:10PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie Well -- I finished it and have changed my mind -- no, I still LOVE this book and it still hits home strongly for me and I think it is an important book about families dealing with loss of one child and so on. What I changed my mind about is it's datedness -- I think it simply SINGS its age -- in an appropriate way -- it is most definitely the 70's in this text and if it weren't so it would ring false.

Beth is who she is due to her life which we learn SOME of though not enough to fully enter into knowing Beth herself. But I know Beth -- oh yes, I recognize Beth -- I lived with a Beth and to some extent I've BEEN Beth at lengthy periods in life -- I still have a Beth shadowing me at times.

And Cal -- oh my goodness -- Cal, the abandoned, who sees the part of Beth who is also abandoned -- in spite of her parents and in spite of her closeness to her brother. And Cal also sees Con in all his parts -- sees both himself and Beth in Con. I loved Berger -- I empathize with Cal, I hurt for Beth, and Con is evening out at the end -- and he's young and he has a lot of Cal in him, but he's recognizing Beth in himself also -- he's going to be better at keeping life on that even keel that the grandparents referred to at some point.

This book breaks my heart every time I read it, damn. It did it again. Beth turned inward to her own interior to have a "self" in my opinion. Grandmother would have definitely been a wearing "mother" to grow up with (GRAMMAR POLICE 911!), don't you think? To some degree at least?
Not that she and Grandftaher aren't good people -- didn't do right by Beth -- and by Cal and the boys -- just -- well they are humans with their own failings.

And this book this time through made me see why my own favorite among the self-help books -- the one I truly can recall and USE when I find myself sliding -- is my favorite. It's about changing the steps to the old songs and dances -- and that's what happened to this family once Buck died out there in the water -- the songs and dances shifted -- and Con felt responsible for the death and for the shift -- and he truly wanted to die.

It may seem dated but you know -- it has meat on its bones -- and there's good solid "food" in there if anyone is having their own trouble with depression and/or suicidal thinking. And I can see why teachers used it with kids (may STILL use it with kids).

I found myself worried when Con was behind the wheel and was also in an upset frame of mind -- not fearing he'd do something but just thinking how easily an accident can happen under such circumstances. Behind the wheel isn't a good place to be when thinking through major ideas such as he was doing at some points.

It feels like I'm just rambling so will stop and post again later once I give this some further thought.

message 34: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:11PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie I found it interesting that Cal began to see his relationship to Beth differently when she went further into herself after Buck's death. When they met he simply was swept away and as a result in choosing Beth over his mentor lost the only truly face-to-face parental relationship he had had -- his father was gone and his mother put him into the home -- which was not so strange as it sounds to our ears these days.

Once the mentor was cut out entirely Cal centered everything on Beth -- which worked well for her personality and her disposition. Buck's death brought Cal to look at the life they had created and been living with the boys in a new light -- expecially once Con tried to kill himself.

I think Cal began to grow along the way in this tale as much as anyone. He didn't just sit in the house and accept he'd failed when Beth left -- he took charge and he made changes and he continued his efforts to build a real relationship with Con.

As for the epilogue -- I didn't think it was so neatly wrapped up -- I thought it was more like the slender beginnings of building connections -- Con with his old friends and his mother, Cal with Con. There was a long hard road ahead before any of them would be anywhere near on their feet emotionally. Beth's place in the continuing growth seemed unclear but she did come back into the big picture at least.


message 35: by Bill (new)

Bill Blodgett Dear readers of Classic Corner. I see a great discussion of Ordinary People going on here and was hoping you, or some or even one of you might be willing to take a look at my new book, Unrequited. A book that takes a hard look at what could be the devastating aftermath of losing a loved one isn't the easiest kind of book to get a review for but I knew that going in. I felt the story needed to be told because the inciting incident almost happened to me and I dwelled on the endless possibilities of “what could have been" for years. Thank you for your time in reading this please and please contact me if you think you might be willing to take a look. bill@billblodgett.com

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