The most sympathetic characters in The Arrivals are Owens père and mère: They feel their children’s pain — until they realize maybe they shouldn’t have to. When the ever-patient William loses his cool on a particularly hectic day, telling Ginny, “I’m just tired of … the mess,” he’s describing much more than his inability to find the phone beneath the clutter. Ginny spends an inordinate amount of time doing laundry; toward the end of the book, the washing machine breaks down (symbolism alert!) along with her composure. (At a Laundromat she finally informs Lillian, “I expect you to act like the adult and the mother that you are.” ’Bout time, Ginny!)
Yet the fact that Ginny is needed once more sends her caroming from disappointment to delight and back again. Why aren’t her children happy and secure enough not to need her? Was it something she (mis-)did that made them this dependent? “I’m sixty-three years old,” she tells William after weeks of absorbing their kids’ crises. “This is what I’ve done with my life. They’re my masterpiece, and they’re broken.”
Bent, maybe, but hardly broken beyond repair. A series of somewhat predictable climactic events leads the entire Owen brood a few steps closer to maturity — which is to say, a few steps closer to understanding that even if a family can’t have it all, with a little compromise it can still salvage something that’s pretty darn good.
Christina Ianzito is a researcher-writer for AARP The Magazine.