In 1976, Judith Guest's Ordinary People became the first unsolicited manuscript published by Viking Press in twenty-six years
Since then the popularity of the novel has remained undiminished. It is read by adults and teenagers alike for its sensitive characterizations of the troubled teenager Conrad Jarrett and his confused father, Calvin. The story of a teenaged boy's journey back from a suicide attempt after his older brother's death in a boating accident, and the grief and guilt that tear the Jarretts apart, Ordinary People was an instant best-seller. It was also made into an award-winning film. Guest's themes of alienation, the search for identity, and coming of age were timely ones, as the 1970s saw a trend toward self-discovery. Thus, psychology plays a key role in the novel, as young Conrad learns to express rather than repress his emotions with the help of a psychiatrist, while his mother's inability to confront her feelings leads her to leave her husband and son. Judith Guest has been especially praised for her insight into the feelings and experiences of her adolescent male protagonist, Conrad Jarrett, as well as for her ear for dialogue. Some critics have found Guest's emphasis on surrendering control ironic, as the style of the novel is tightly controlled, though unconventional, with its shifts between the perspectives of Calvin and Conrad Jarrett. Critics have also found that Guest's ending is too contrived; the troubled relationship between Conrad and his mother is resolved through the healing power of love, even though the two are not in contact....