In Ordinary Love and Good Will, Jane Smiley determined to find a form for each novella that would be characteristically female (in the case of Ordinary Love) or male (in the case of Good Will). This goal coincides with her belief that women and men experience life differently and so need different forms for expressing that experience. Rachel caused suffering by insisting that her desires be satisfied at any cost and then by being secretive about her actions; Bob caused suffering by imposing his overpowering, oppressive will on those around him and smothering the diversity of opinion on which healthy relationships thrive. Rachel’s tendencies represent women’s methods of acting in a destructive manner; Bob’s actions are representative of men’s tendencies to act in nonproductive ways.
Smiley’s perfectly simple style is appropriate for these stories; it focuses attention on minute details, yet somehow creates distance from the larger horrors that loom over the characters by causing readers not to recognize the awful truth until it is already upon them. Her technique of having this realization of danger coincide with that of the protagonists is a feat of suspense that only an accomplished writer could effect. The horror at Ellen’s revelation of their father’s neglect and abuse during an ordinary family dinner and the sudden realization that Tommy has burned a family’s house out of envy are emotional reactions...
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