Jun 10, 2011

Ordinary Love and Goodwill

by Jane Smiley

I almost didn't read the part of this book that turned out to be my favorite. I didn't know what I was getting into, with this one. I thought the title was all one piece, and it wasn't until I started reading that I found it's actually two novellas, the first called Ordinary Love and the second, Good Will. I still can't help thinking of the title as one line, though....

Ordinary Love just failed to catch my interest. It's written from the viewpoint of a mother of five grown children; two of her sons are twins. One is returning home from a recent trip to Korea. The others gather and lots of talk happens. Apparently there's quite a bit of discussion between them all about the parents' divorce. I really didn't get far enough to feel that out. I quit after about thirty pages. I just wasn't following what was going on or even which character was talking at one point. Not working for me.

That was going to be the end. But then I glanced at someone's review of the book on Library Thing and noticed it mentioned that Good Will was about a small family trying to run a self-sufficient homestead outside an ordinary suburban town. That sounded interesting to me. So I picked up the book again and read the second half, totally captivated. It's about a couple and their young son, who live on a farm. They grow or gather almost everything they eat, and barter for most belongings, make their own clothing and such. Hardly have twenty bucks between them all at any one time. The husband is good at carpentry and figuring things out, he makes all the furniture, builds the house, creates a fantastic compost system, etc. It's so impressive a writer comes out to interview them to be included in a book she's writing. This writer's presence eclipses the story; she's there at the beginning first learning about them, and at the end they receive the manuscript and shortly after the book to read what she's said about them- at the point when things are no longer the same. And it's not because their efforts failed, the couple were perfectly happy and content with their way of life, even though others viewed it as poverty. But the son, who went to public school and compared his life to other kids', was not as happy. Father and mother both viewed their son's actions from a divergent angle, and they each failed to realized what was going on until it was too late and they had to abandon their farm, because of the son's actions... I can't say more without saying too much. Read the story! It's good! There's a part that reminded me strongly of Steinbeck's The Red Pony, so if you have angst with animals dying in a book, you might not want to...

And if anyone's read Ordinary Love and liked it, tell me why. I might just go back to it if I'm properly convinced...

Rating: 3/5 ........ 218 pages, 1989

3 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I would have thought that was one book too from the title. Not sure I want to buy it for just one of the stories, but it might be worth getting at my library.

Bybee said...

I read Ordinary Love and Good Will so long ago that I've forgotten everything. It would be like a brand new book for me.

Jeane said...

Bermudaonion- Only liking half the book wasn't enough for me to keep my copy, either. I'm swapping it away.

Bybee- That's the fun of re-reading! especially when it feels new and familiar all at once.