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Ordinary People

Judith Guest

Chapters 25-26

Chapters 22-24

Chapters 27-29

Summary

Chapter 25 opens in Houston, where Audrey is having coffee with Calvin after a successful golf match. Calvin reflects that Audrey's kids are growing up well and looking very healthy, but he cannot help thinking about them in relationship to his own two children, particularly Buck. They talk about Conrad briefly, and Calvin as usual begins to think of the conflicts he has had with Beth over the treatment of their son. Beth is interested in keeping up the appearance that all is well in the Jarrett household, even with her own relatives. Calvin thinks back to Buck's funeral and Beth's behavior--when she cried and when she did not. Ward, Beth's brother and Audrey's husband, arrives with Beth and joins in the conversation about Calvin's golf performance. Calvin thinks that his wife looks unusually young and boisterous. Ward again brings up the subject of Conrad, but Beth dodges his questions, saying that everything is fine. Calvin tells them about Dr. Berger, much to Beth's silent chagrin.

Meanwhile, in Lake Forest, Conrad wakes up on Sunday morning and has breakfast with Ellen, who as usual finds something about which she can nag him. Conrad is in good spirits, however, having been out with Jeannine the previous night. Conrad goes out to wash his car, thinking about last night's date and some new friends he is acquiring. He realizes, as the narrator puts it, that "He is strong." That night, he is reading the newspaper with Howard, waiting to go to Jeannine's to study. He suddenly comes across an article on page three announcing the suicide of a 19-year-old girl whom he quickly realizes is his friend Karen from the hospital. He is sent immediately into shock, and goes to bed even though it is only 7 pm. He feels numb. He spends the whole night in bed, drifting in and out of sleep, dreams, and memories of the past all blended together. He thinks back to his times hanging out with Karen, then he recalls the treatment he underwent in the hospital. He remembers vividly the day he tried to commit suicide, and remembers vaguely being rescued. He suddenly wakes up around 2 am and decides that he needs to go for a walk in order to think more. He wanders aimlessly, thinking about his suicide attempt, until a policeman stops him and tells him to go home. Back in his room, he falls into another dream and recalls vividly the death of his brother in a boating accident. Conrad thinks that Buck could have survived if only he would have held on to the boat. Still, Conrad blames himself for not being able to save his brother. He also blames Buck for letting go, and has an imaginary conversation with Buck about the accident. Conrad feels as though he is in hell because he is trapped in an unalterable past.

Conrad again wakes up suddenly, and he immediately calls Dr. Berger to request a meeting. He wakes Berger, but the doctor agrees to meet him at the office in 30 minutes. Exhausted and mentally unstable, Conrad leaves a note for his grandparents saying that he had gone early to school. He then drives to the office, concentrating with all his might on driving.

Commentary

One of Guest's most prevalent techniques in this novel is her use of constant examples of how the Jarrett family could turn out. We see in the Hanleys a model of how to rebuild a troubled marriage. We see in Jeannine's parents a model of a marriage that fell apart. Thus, the two possibilities for Calvin and Beth are mapped out clearly for the reader before the end of the novel. The inclusion of Karen, a relatively minor character, serves a greater literary purpose than simply to spark the novel's climax. Karen's story reminds us of what could happen to Conrad. Even though she seemed to be recovering very well, she caved in and committed suicide. Guest is reminding the reader that the healing process is neither linear nor guaranteed; Conrad himself could still go the same route as Karen.

Chapter 26 introduces two different classifications for people: "ordinary" and "nut." Conrad has always thought of himself as troubled, so he cannot help but think about the meaning of the policeman's comment that he is not a "nut." Conrad assumes that because he is not a nut, he must be ordinary. This realization is important for several reasons, one of which is the reminder to the reader that there is nothing extraordinary about the Jarrett family. They are much like other families trying to get on with life and heal after tragedy.

The death of Karen could be said to spark one of the novel's climaxes. Because there are two conflicts in the novel (Conrad vs. himself, Beth vs. Calvin), each one will have to reach a climax and then be resolved. The climax of the story of Conrad is marked by serious depression and a deep regression into memory, both of which lead Conrad to blame himself more and more for the death of his brother and the subsequent events. It is from this epiphany that Conrad will emerge a renewed and healed young man. The events in subsequent chapters will show how Conrad releases the blame that bubbles up to the surface of his mind in Chapter 26. Of course, the conflict between Calvin and Beth has yet to reach its climax, which will also take place in subsequent chapters in Houston.

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