Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 436
The characterd in Jane Smiley's novellas, Ordinary Love & Good Will, (1989) include one primary protagonist in each novella, and several suporting ones. The protagonist of Ordinary Love is Rachel Kinsella, who is 52 years old, and twenty years divorced from the father of her five children. Much of the novella is Rachel's first-person examination of the aftermath of his affair that caused the divorce, and temporary separation from her children.
Ellen is the oldest child. She has two children of her own, and comes to see her mother almost everyday. When Ellen finds out about her mother's affair, she reveals how difficult it was to live with their father in London, having been abandoned by him once for six days.
Daniel is a year younger than Ellen, and lives in New York with one child. Rachel says that he calls every weekend.
Joe and Michael are twins. Joe is thinner, smaller, and less imposing. He is at home with his mother for a time in the course of the novel's narration before returning to school. Michael has just completed two years teaching in India before coming home to reunite with family. After his mother's confession of an affair, Michael confesses that he has had an affair with a married woman.
In Good Will, the protagonist is war veteran Bob Miller. He is a scrupulous, stubborn, devotedly self-reliant man. He has a wife, Liz, and a son, Tommy. Liz and Bob are good parents, but committed to a lifestyle of austerity on their vast Pennsylvania farm, where they grow their own food and build their own furniture. Bob makes less than $350 per month.
Tommy is lively and smart, but he lashes out at school against an African American girl, Annie. Bob goes to see his teacher at school and apologizes profusely—an apology which is only partially received.
Annie's mother is Lydia Harris, who accepts Bob and Liz's apology. At first refusing, she allows Bob to repay for her daughter's coat that Tommy destroyed by letting Bob do manual work in her home. Lydia writes Bob and Liz a note thanking them for their graciousness in making amends, and hoping that they will consider her a friend.
Ultimately, Tommy's subsequent actions preclude such friendship, as Tommy sets fire to Lydia and Annie's home, and the family is forced to move into an apartment when forced to sell their home to pay for the damages. The family ends up in therapy, and Liz once calls Bob a "megalomaniac." Bob, admittedly stubborn though not unintelligent, admits in his narration that he has to some extent failed in raising his child.