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Ordinary People

Judith Guest

Chapters 22-24

Chapters 19-21

Chapters 25-26

Summary

On a whim, Conrad decides to attend an after-school swim meet one day. The team is having a terrible season, and Conrad cannot help but feel as though he could make the team better. The meet ends, and as Conrad leaves he hears his old friends talking about Buck. Lazenby sees Conrad and calls him over. Stillman, as usual, begins to give Conrad a hard time, asking him about Jeannine. Suddenly, Conrad snaps and attacks Stillman with all his might. After pounding Stillman, he is pull ed back by Lazenby. He goes back to his car, where Lazenby joins him to talk. Lazenby talks about Stillman briefly before telling Conrad that he too misses Buck. Conrad realizes that he has always thought of the loss only as it affects him. He tells Lazenby that they're still friends.

Back home, Conrad gets out of his bloody clothes and tries to clean them. He begins to make himself dinner as he thinks about the fight. He thinks there may be punishment, but he also demeans the significance of the brawl. But he is also worried that he will get into trouble. He thinks that he is always "fucking up" even though he never means to. He decides that the world is full of "fucking bastards." He retrieves his clean clothes from the dryer and sits down, waiting.

The action then moves to Calvin, who is thinking about communication as he drives home. He is caught up in circular thinking and is not paying attention to what goes on around him. He arrives home to find Conrad asleep on the couch. He gently wakes him. Conrad tells Calvin about the fight. His father is accepting and non-judgmental. Calvin assures Conrad that Stillman is all right. Calvin silently thinks about how he himself has gotten better recently at letting out his anger rather than keeping it inside. Calvin then goes upstairs to find Beth in bed, and he wonders why she hadn't woken up Conrad to find out why he was asleep on the couch. He thinks there is something wrong with her.

The action then moves to the spring, when Conrad is helping his mother and father pack the car before they go to the airport to depart for Houston. He exchanges goodbyes with his mother, although they are lukewarm. After seeing them off, Conrad packs his own suitcase to go to the house of his grandparents, Howard and Ellen. His relationship with his grandmother is strained because she always nags him about almost everything. She complains about his bad grades, his eating and sleeping habits and his whole lifestyle. Conrad, however, does not take her seriously. That night, he picks Jeannine up from work, and they stop at her house before going out. At her house she finds her mother with her boyfriend. He mother asks her to stay at home and watch her brother while they go out. Jeannine is noticeably angry, but Conrad takes a relaxed attitude. They stay in and make popcorn, and Conrad plays the guitar for Jeannine's brother. When Conrad is alone with Jeannine, she says that her mother was dating the man before she got divorced. She then begins to cry, and she tells Conrad that she had always hoped that her parents would get back together. Conrad comforts her, feeling both strong and needed.

Commentary

One of Guest's more noticeable techniques is her method of beginning chapters without telling the reader who the focus is. Chapters 22 and 23, for instance, both begin discussing "he," but without telling the reader at first who the "he" is. In some ways, this engages the reader more because we must pay close attention to detail in order to determine which major character is the focus. The pronoun-based openings along with the present-tense narrative also make each chapter seem as though it picks up immediately after the events of the most recent chapter about a particular character. For instance, Chapter 23 could be attached on to the end of Chapter 21 without really changing either part; the transition is smooth.

At the end of Chapter 23, Conrad lies to his father about the cause of the fight. Why he does so reflects on the nature of the father-son relationship. The real cause of the fight was Stillman's mention of Buck and his taunting of Conrad over Jeannine. We can infer from Conrad's lie that he does not want his father to know about his girlfriend or that he still has strong feelings over the loss of his brother. Conrad is in a difficult position: he does not want his father worrying about him, but he is also unwilling to share information about himself that would make his father stop worrying. He is clearly a private person, particularly in his refusal to mention anything about Jeannine.

Just as Ray Hanley's family provides an example of a family that was able to mend its differences and heal, the glimpse into Jeannine's home life provides an example of a married couple that was not able to mend its wounds. Jeannine's parents, we learn, fell out of love with one another and ended up getting a divorce. Before they divorced, her mother began to date another man. The question that has run throughout much of the novel is whether or not Calvin and Beth will take the same route and divorce. The incorporation of Jeannine's family story so late in the novel in a means of foreshadowing that things will not work out ideally for Conrad and Beth. Jeannine, then, is perhaps an example of what Conrad may be like years down the road after his parents have split up.

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