About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

#78: The Arrivals

The Arrivals, by Meg Mitchell Moore (New York: Reagan Arthur Books, 2011)

"What happens when an empty nest fills up again? A captivating, heartwarming debut about growing up and coming home.

"It's the start of summer when Ginny and William Owen's quiet, peaceful life in Burlington, Vermont comes to an abrupt halt.

"First, their eldest daughter, Lillian, shows up with her two children in tow, to escape her crumbling marriage. Next, Lillian's younger brother, Stephen, arrives for the weekend, accompanied by his pregnant wife, Jane, an ambitious and misunderstood Wall Street workaholic -- but their visit is extended indefinitely when Jane is put on mandatory bed rest.

"And by the time Rachel, the youngest Owen sibling, appears, fleeing the difficulties of her single life in New York City, the senior Owens are once again consumed by the chaos and stress of their early parenting days -- only this time around, their house is filled with grown-up children and their adult problems.

"Meg Mitchell Moore's absorbing debut offers acute observations on the workings of a modern family, the challenges of parenting, and the continual struggles of growing up. By summer's end, the Owen family will have new ideas about loyalty, responsibility, and how you survive the people you love most. The old adage 'once a parent, always a parent' has never rung so true."

Opening Line:
"It was eight thirty in the morning, June, a Saturday, and the sunlight was coming in the kitchen window at such an angle that William's granddaughter, Olivia, had to shield her eyes with one hand while she bent her head to sip from the straw in her glass of orange juice."

My Take:
Couldn't have picked a better book to read while visiting my own parents for the weekend. While the loving but beseiged Ginny and William are probably the most sympathetic characters, the whole lot of them are realistic and fairly likeable: Lillian, overwhelmed by the incessant demands of mothering an infant and a very-chatty 3 year old, who can't possibly imagine forgiving husband Tom's single act of infidelity; Stephen and Jane, who struggle first with how to tell William and Ginny that Stephen plans to be a stay-at-home dad, and then with bigger, darker questions about Jane's risky pregnancy and uncertain professional future; and Rachel, whose recent breakup and miscarriage have left her with an apartment she can't afford and a nagging fear that she's really not cut out for the single life in New York.

In contrast to a fairly forgettable read like Kindred Spirits, it's the small details that make this book stand out. The minor but annoying family drama around who gets which bedroom now that Jane needs to be on bed rest. William's mounting annoyance with the mess his once-orderly home has become, in one late scene where he wants only to run a load of laundry and find some breakfast. Ginny's observation that you never seem to have enough towels when you have house guests. And my personal favorite: a scene where William convinces Stephen to detour past the ice cream stand on the way home from a trip to the hardware store:
"'Sometimes I do this,' William said, licking the sprinkles off the tip of the cone.

"'Do what?'

"'Sneak out on your mother in the middle of the day and have an ice cream.'

"'Geez, Dad,' said Stephen. This knowledge, delivered though it was in a genial, conspiratorial tone, made him sad. 'Do you have to sneak out to get an ice cream, at your age?'

"'Sixty-five next month,' William said cheerfully.

"'Aren't you supposed to be sneaking out for a beer, if anything?'

"'Ah.' William licked at his ice cream. 'That's the thing. A beer tastes better at home in the summer, in front of the Red Sox, after a hard day of work. A Creemee: that's better away from home.'

"'But you have to sneak it.' Stephen watched an elderly couple toddle down to the edge of the water. The man held a cane; the woman held onto his elbow and guided him.

"'No, I don't have to sneak it.'

"'But you like to sneak it.'

"'Well, it's easier, sometimes.'

"'Easier why?'

"'Because then I don't have to see if your mother wants to go, or arrange to bring something back for her if she doesn't, or explain why I want ice cream, or feel guilty for having it, or wonder if she's thinking about my cholesterol. Which makes me think about my cholesterol. It's just easier, sometimes, to go out on my own.'

"Stephen surveyed the scrappy grass under his feet. There was a group of ants moving about. He envied them suddenly, their ignorance and industry, their incapacity for self-doubt. 'Jesus,' said Stephen. It was depressing to him, to think of his father and his surreptitious ice cream cones. 'Is that what marriage becomes, in the end?' Guilt over ice cream? Hiding on a picnic bench somewhere by yourself? And yet there was William, licking away, as happy as a little boy, so who was Stephen to begrudge him his small pleasures?

"'That's not all marriage becomes,' said William. 'And I don't consider this the end.'"
Were I writing a bona fide essay about this book, there's a lot I could pull from that single passage. A good, solid read.

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