Judith (Ann) Guest 1936–
Guest's first novel, Ordinary People (1976), propelled her to fame as a best-selling author and was adapted into an award-winning film. Second Heaven (1982), her second published novel, had been started several years before Ordinary People was written. Both books are set in contemporary middle-class suburbia, both have a troubled adolescent male as a central figure, and both portray characters grappling with such problems as suicide, depression, divorce, and child abuse. There are strong thematic similarities between the two works as well, as Guest herself notes: "Communication is a preoccupation of mine; so is domination. How people dominate other people and why they do it. How you get out from under that if you want to, and whether you really want to." Thus, although Guest places her characters in unusually harsh circumstances, her works concern issues which most young adults face.
Ordinary People was the first unsolicited manuscript which Viking Press had accepted for publication in twenty-seven years. The novel relates the story of a young man reentering high school and family life after spending time in a mental institution. Guest describes Conrad's struggle with insanity and depression and the ways in which pain can both bring a family closer together and tear it apart. Critics praised Guest's realistic and sensitive portrayal of Conrad and found it superior to her characterization of the adults in the novel. Despite the opinion of some critics that the events of Ordinary People are too neatly orchestrated and potentially maudlin, the book is elevated above the level of formulaic pulp fiction by Guest's ear for dialogue, especially where young people are concerned.
While most critics thought Guest avoided melodrama in Ordinary People, many suggest that she was less successful in Second Heaven, in which she tells of three lonely, troubled people who try to help one another. Cat and Mike, both divorced, offer sixteen-year-old Gale the emotional and legal help he needs to escape the clutches of his abusive father and in the process assuage some of their own loneliness. In this novel, Guest sets up a clear conflict between good and evil; she allows good to triumph in a courtroom conclusion which many critics considered too idealistic. Like Ordinary People, Second Heaven is very tightly organized; some critics expressed a desire to see Guest relinquish some of the control with which she writes. However, critics did not suggest that Ordinary People was a fluke; nearly all found much to praise in Second Heaven.
(See also CLC, Vol. 8 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)