The three children of Ginny and William Owens fled their Vermont home for college and independent lives years ago — or so it seems until the life-shattering summer when various personal catastrophes send the trio home again for “visits” with indeterminate departure dates. As they tap into the comfort, security, and laundry services of good old Mom and Dad, the tender trap of familial love becomes something of a tinder box.
See also: How to raise your adult children.
That premise — three siblings suffer quarter-life crises and simultaneously seek parental support — may feel contrived unless you’re willing to chalk it up to poetic license. If you are, The Arrivals — Meg Mitchell Moore’s perceptive first novel — becomes a moving story about conflicted adult children who are still learning how to be grown-ups. Along the way, we learn a good deal about the inner lives of conflicted parents trying to help them fly — make that finally fly — the coop.
The Owens’ oldest child, Lillian, a 36-year-old stay-at-home mother of two, has left her husband after learning of his fling with his young assistant — a “snub-nosed snowboarder,” no less. In an angry muddle, Lillian is too self-centered, or perhaps too childish, to notice how she has sabotaged her parents’ sense of order. She blithely scatters her toddler’s sippy cups and her baby’s onesies throughout their once-tidy empty nest.
Next to arrive is their son, Stephen, and his pregnant wife, Jane, a workaholic from New York City who’s frenetically fused to her BlackBerry. Their surprise weekend visit turns into an extended stay after Jane suffers a near-miscarriage and is consigned to bed rest — in Lillian’s childhood bedroom, no less — for who knows how long.
Finally, Rachel, the youngest at 29, shows up on a bus from the city, fleeing insecurities at work and the grief of a relationship with Mr. Wrong, whose abrupt departure has left her unable to pay the rent.
Let the hilarity and head-butting begin!
Despite these early-warning signs of a two-dimensional Hollywood dramedy dead ahead (I’m seeing Meryl Streep as Ginny Owens), Moore uses solid writing to bring some welcome depth to the family-dysfunction genre. During a midsummer heat wave, for example, the immobilized Lillian feels as if everyone is “trapped inside a giant bubble of humidity pulled ever closer to the center of the earth.” Lillian’s daughter, Olivia, “lifted her sippy cup of water to her lips and drank listlessly, more out of necessity than pleasure, the way a jaded drunk in a dark bar in the midafternoon might drink.”