Ordinary People

Judith Guest


This book was published back in 1976 and was this lady's first novel. It was made into a movie in 1980 and the movie won best picture. The movie was directed by Robert Redford and starred Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland, and Timothy Hutton. The composer was Marvin Hamlisch…how about that for pointless information? The book is a set in the late 1970's just outside of Chicago, Illinois and opens up on Sept 30th and goes to the following August. It is basically the aftermath of a tragedy happening to the "perfect" family and how it alters them forever.


Conrad Jarrett (Con…Connie): This is the younger son of the family. He tried to kill himself before the book starts by slitting his wrists and spent a long time in a mental hospital. The book starts with him being home from the hospital for one month. He should be a senior in highschool, but he is still a junior since he missed his exams because of his suicide attempt. Most of the book is told through his thoughts.

Jordan Jarrett (Buck): The older brother. He was the outgoing perfect son. He is dead before the book starts…therefore he really isn't in the book, but he is a BIG part. He drowned in a boating accident. His brother Conrad was with him and his death is a major reason Conrad tries to kill himself…because he blames himself.

Calvin Jarrett (Cal): The father of the family. He is a tax attorney. A lot of the book is spoken his through his thoughts..especially with dealing with Conrad and his wife.

Beth Jarrett: The mom of the family. She is beautiful and "perfect" She is a complete perfectionist and doesn't know how to deal with Conrad.

Dr. Berger: Conrad's psychiatrist who helps him to recover.

Crawford: He is never in the book, but he was Conrad's Dr. at the hospital who reffered him to Dr. Berger.

Jeannine Pratt: This girl Conrad goes to school with who eventually becomes his girlfriend.

Joe Lazenby: Conrad's buddy…who was also very good friends with Buck.

Stillman: This complete ass who is friends with Lazenby. He is that prick who always makes comments that are completely insensitive and pisses everyone off. He goes too far eventually and Conrad whupps his ass.

Ray Hanley: Cal's business partner.

Howard: Conrad's grandfather.

Ellen: Conrad's grandmother.

Karen Aldrich: Conrad's friend from the hospital. She was another suicide kid. He tries to hang out with her when they are both out but she is weirded out...she ends up killing herself later.

Van Buren, Genthe, and Truan: Buck's and Conrad's friends.



This book can be very confusing to read. The closest comparison of another kind of novel is Catcher in the Rye. Both books are kind of a story of a brother in a "normal" family who has a brother die and then loses their shit. The book is narrated in the thrid person mainly through the thoughts of Conrad and his father. This is the basic rundown of what it is about. Before the book starts, Buck and Conrad were out on a boat and a storm hit and Buck drowns. You find this all out as the book goes on, so if you are only on chapter 3 in class, don't go saying this kind of thing…because you don't really get the whole drowning story until towards the end. The Jarretts are like this perfect family and when Buck dies, it messes them all up. Conrad tries to kill himself by slitting his wrists and almost dies, but is hospitalized. The book starts one month (sept 30th) after he has been released from the nuthouse.

The book is like a year in the life of Conrad and his family. His mom is this perfectionist who wants everything to appear to be normal and thinks Conrad's suicide attempt was just to hurt her. She doesn't know how to really show affection for Conrad after Buck dies. Calvin tries way too hard to watch over Conrad because he blames himslef for missing the warning signs before Conrad's attempted suicide.

Conrad goes to see this shrink Berger who helps him come to terms with his brother's death. Conrad goes through an adjustment with being back at school and having to deal with people. Buck was really Mr. Outgoing and Conrad lives in that shadow and feels he must live his brother's memory. That is why he tries to re-join the swim team (his brother was the pride of the swim team).

As the year goes by, Conrad is able to deal with his emotions and starts to take control of his life. He realizes that he needs to be himself, not his brother or what other people think of him. He forgives himself and his mom. He starts dating this girl named Jeanninne. He realizes that life is full of pain and he has to let out the emotions the pain causes instead of bottling it up and then trying to hurt himself. He needs to allow himself to feel…both pain and happiness.

The part of the book where you really find out what happened in the past and Conrad really makes his final breakthrough is when he finds out his friend from the Hospital, Karen, has killed herself. It makes him question his progress and whether he can actually get back to grips. He really freaks out and Dr. Berger helps him to finally deal with forgiving himself for his brother's death…it wasn't his fault. It just was that…of the two brothers…the younger and weaker one lived and the strong one died. And the fact that Conrad had always tried to be like his brother Buck, it made him try harder to replace him for his family after the accident. And when he couldn't do that (it is impossible to replace someone when they die), he realizes it is a problem and the only he can deal with it is to destroy the problem…which is killing himself. Dr. Berger tells him it's ok to be who he is…he doesn't have to try and be Buck.

Calvin and Beth argue a lot over their relationship with Conrad and also with each other. Beth feels that Calvin accepts everything Conrad does and is too protective. Calvin's mood is based soley on how Beth acts or Conrad. Calvin feels that Beth does not care enough about Conrad. They drift apart as the year goes on and eventually, Beth ends up leaving Calvin.

So, in the end, Conrad is doing good…living with his dad. He is willing to open up again to the people who he has known a long time…and he is about to see his mother again.