This is one of those quiet books that doesn’t seem like much on the surface, but there is a lot going on underneath. It’s one of those books that require some thinking to really get it.
Ordinary People alternates points-of-view between a father and a son. The father, Cal, is a successful attorney who is attempting to hold his disintegrating family together. Cal’s son, eighteen-year-old Conrad, has been dealing with depression since his brother drowned in a boating accident. Conrad’s suicide attempt and his father’s efforts to understand it put even more strain on the family. This book is a modern classic that was first published in 1976.
I can see why this book is a classic and why people love it. It has one of the most relatable portrayals of depression and perfectionism that I’ve ever come across. It was frighteningly easy to see my teenage self in Conrad. A lot of his thoughts were my thoughts when I was eighteen.
“Depression is not sobbing and crying and giving vent, it is plain and simple reduction of feeling.”
“Because it has always been easier to believe himself capable of evil than to accept evil in others.”
I’m very happy with the way that the author handled Conrad’s character. He’s depressed, but there’s more to him than just his depression. He has a wonderful sense of humor. He cares about people. He sets goals for himself and works hard to achieve them. He actually feels like a real person and not just a stereotype of a depressed teen. I also appreciate that his father takes an interest in his life and makes an effort to understand him.
Conrad is an interesting character, but I wish I could say that about the other characters in the book. This is a short novel with a lot of minor characters. There were a few times when I struggled to remember who was who. I wanted many of the characters, especially Conrad’s mother, to be more complex. Sometimes his mother comes across as an uncaring witch, and I don’t think her character is that simple.
The writing style also caused a few issues for me. The book is written stream-of-consciousness style. Some sections have very little punctuation. This isn’t my favorite writing style because it slows down my reading. Also, since the reader is so deep inside the characters’ minds, the style becomes a bit maudlin at times. There are a few places where I remember thinking, Okay, you’re upset. You’re suffering. You’re in pain. I get it. Talk about something else now.
Despite those issues, I really liked Ordinary People. I know that I will reread it in the future. I have a feeling that it’s one of those books that get better with rereading. There are probably a lot of subtle things that I missed on the first read. And, I need to track down a copy of the movie. Everyone has been telling me that it’s amazing.