"Ordinary Love" and "Good Will"

by Jane Smiley

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Who are the characters in Jane Smiley's "Ordinary Love"?

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Jane Smiley's Ordinary Love is the story of 52 year old Rachel, who is divorced. Twenty years ago, Rachel was still married to her ex-husband, Pat, and the couple lived with their five children in a huge house on five acres of land. Their idyllic lives came to a close, however, when Rachel admitted to Pat that she was having an affair with Ed, a man who lived nearby. Devastated by her betrayal, Pat kicked Rachel out, divorced her, sold their house, and took all five children to England.

Meanwhile, Rachel and Ed eventually broke up, and Rachel continued life on her own. She later confessed to her grown children the reasons she and their father divorced. Rachel concluded that she had given her children two of the cruelest gifts in life: "the experience of perfect family happiness, and the certain knowledge that it could not last."

Here are the characters from Jane Smiley's novella:

1) Rachel (52 years old). She is single when the story begins. She is of Scandinavian heritage and has five children and four grandchildren. Her children are Michael, Joe, Ellen, Annie, and Daniel.

2) Pat Kinsella (Rachel's former husband). Pat is a doctor and medical researcher, well-known for his pediatric-allergy research. He is of Irish heritage. After he divorces Rachel, Pat marries Tatty and has four children with her. He is still protective of his grown-up children. In the story, he sends five hundred dollars to Ellen when he discovers that her car had been vandalized.

3) Michael (25 years old). For the last two years, he has been teaching high school mathematics in Benares, India. Upon his return, he confesses that he's battling amebic dysentery and is seeking a cure for it.

4) Joe (Michael's twin, who is also 25 years old). At the beginning of the story, he helps Rachel buff the floors in preparation for Michael's visit. Joe is a college student majoring in the history of science. He lives temporarily with Rachel during the summer break. He enjoys listening to Elvis Costello, The Talking Heads, The Flamin' Groovies, and Dire Straits. Joe is tall, slender, and square-shouldered. Like Ellen, he is very protective of his mother.

5) Ellen (Rachel's oldest daughter — age not mentioned). She lives a mile from Rachel and has two daughters of her own. Ellen has a close relationship with Rachel. She lives with Jerry (her former instructor), who is 16 years her senior. Jerry is an avid pilot, and he has a masters in public policy.

6) Annie (Rachel's youngest daughter — age not mentioned). Annie just had a baby. She was once estranged from Rachel but has a closer relationship with her now.

7) Daniel (a year younger than Ellen — age not mentioned). Daniel lives in New York, has one son, and calls Rachel every weekend.

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