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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 596

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Ordinary Love & Good Will is a collection of stories from Jane Smiley. Smiley, a Los Angeles native and winner of a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1992, is an exemplary writer depicting the average person's life. In this fashion, she juxtaposes two character sketches of Rachel Kinsella and Bob Miller in Ordinary Love and Good Will, respectively.

Rachel Kinsella is a 52-year-old divorcée with five children, who confesses her affair to her adult children during the course of her narration.

She first describes her twins, Joe and Michael as follows:

When Michael walks into the house, he is not Joe's twin, but the shadow of Joe, dressed all in white cotton and cadaverous.

At that (present) time, Michael has just returned from teaching in India for two years. Later in Rachel's narration, we learn that Joe had formerly been the smaller twin, but the two were separated in the divorce. She explains,

Michael was the prize, Pat's favorite boy . . . . As for separating identical twins, he considered that a positive good, and supported his position with statistics about test scores and theories about brain development. His intention, he said, was to overcome for them the disadvantage of having been born twins. And furthermore it was Joe, smaller by a pound at birth, always subordinate and dependent, who would benefit most from leading his own life.

When Rachel confesses her affair to her adult children, it is Michael who offers her a confession of his own, specifically that he had been having an affair with a married woman. The novel suggests that Rachel's infidelity and her husband's behavior thereafter permanently altered her children's lives—especially Michael's.

Bob Miller, protagonist and narrator of Good Will, is a stubbornly self-reliant iconoclast, who rejects the culture of American consumerism and lives on a homestead earning about $350 per month. When his six-year-old son, Tommy, lashes out against an African American girl at school, Miller is forced to meet with his teacher. Though Miller is intelligent and played no deliberate part in Tommy's behavior, his teacher (herself as a proxy for society at large) assumes that Miller's unconventional lifestyle bespeak a poor ability to parent.

During this meeting, Bob self-respectfully announces, "I'm Bob Miller, Tommy's father." Miller then explains that the teacher

sits away from me, doesn't smile or shake my hand. She is young, maybe twenty-five or -six. Last year Tommy's teacher was about my age. She at least remembers a time when others had the ambitions I had, but this one doesn't.

Tommy's behavior also results in Bob and Liz taking the (respectable) initiative to apologize personally to the mother of Tommy's victim. When they offer to make amends (which Lydia graciously accepts), Bob sees her home:

Immediately it is apparent that Dr. Harris has the touch. The front hall and the living room leading off it are bright, warm, comfortable and stylish. The high ceilings, painted pale, peachy rose, the white woodwork, the pale green walls, the graceful dark shine of the bannister, curling toward the second floor, the lamps lit. I have lived without electricity for so long that the silvery gold light of the lamps enchants me.

This quote demonstrates that Bob himself is not immune to the jealousies that perhaps motivated his son's offensive behavior. Eventually, Tommy sets fire to this very home, causing a conflagration that leaves his family destitute at the mercy of an insurance company, the family is forced into living in an apartment. It is suggested that Tommy's behavior results from his stifled and limited existence, chosen for him by his father.

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