In Judith Guest’s novel, Ordinary People, Beth, Calvin, and their son Conrad are living in the aftermath of the death of the other son. Conrad is filled with grief and guilt to the extent of a suicide attempt. Beth had always seemed to prefer his brother and has difficulty showing empathy towards Conrad or Calvin. Calvin is stuck between the two trying to hold the family together while also trying to keep himself from falling apart. The novel shows different ways people communicate and how this can either rebuild or destroy relationships.
The novel tells the story through two points of view. The chapters switch between Conrad and Calvin. The perspective is never from Beth. This alternating style shows the parallel of Conrad recovering over the course of the novel while the marriage between Calvin and Beth spirals downward. This also indicates that the book is about healing and rebuilding what seem to be hopeless lives, rather than about how their lives were ruined in the first place.
Everyone deals with pain differently. Some people choose to hide their emotions and pretend that everything is okay. We can see this in each member of the family. Beth, adored Buck. The only time we ever saw her truly laughing was during her flashbacks of being with Buck. In the present, we can imagine and get small glimpses of the enormous pain she is feeling, but not expressing, over the loss of this child. It is clear where she learned such reserve when her mother is introduced. Conrad is also in pain, but his pain is exposed. He had been hospitalized for a suicide attempt since Buck's death. However, since his discharge Conrad continues to be depressed. He withdraws from his friends and finds no enjoyment in life. Sometimes Conrad tries to suppress his feelings, but he is more open to talk about the past than his mother is. Calvin loves all of his family and is very open with his emotions. He clearly misses Buck, but also is very concerned...