cover image Ordinary Love and Good Will

Ordinary Love and Good Will

Jane Smiley. Alfred A. Knopf, $17.95 (197pp) ISBN 978-0-394-57772-2

After her long novel The Greenlanders , Smiley returns to the novella form of the masterly The Age of Grief , and this double bill exhibits her finely honed talent in impeccable form. In both stories Smiley movingly illustrates the price children pay for their parents' mistakes. The ironic title of the first novella refers to the desire of its protagonist, a 50-year-old mother of five, to pretend that her relationship to her grown children is an ``ordinary'' one. But she forfeited that right 20 years ago when she announced her extramarital affair: her husband whisked their young children off to Europe, keeping the youngsters away from her for many years. Now, on a weekend of family reunion, she realizes how much they have all been damaged; that they, as well as she, will always ``have the settled darkness of expectation.'' The leisurely unfolding of the narrative, its quotidian details mixed with flashes of revelation, provides a grave, heart-wrenching credibility. In the second tale, a man who is self-righteously proud that he, his wife and seven-year-old son pursue a self-sufficient, exaggeratedly simple lifestyle, on an organic farm isolated from the general culture, learns too late that his son is a victim of his obsession. Wise, powerful and resonantly memorable, these stories are sure to be classics. (Nov.)