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Families. They’re an unrelenting source of literary inspiration—full of conflict, misunderstandings, moments of grace, epiphanies, silences, fractures. Families pull and push us; form and reform us. Family relationships are usually at the heart of my favorite novels, and these relationships tend to be a bit messy. After all, unhappy families are unhappy in their own ways (my paraphrase). But, family dynamics need not be Jonathan Franzen-dark to engage a reader. I recently finished Meg Mitchell Moore’s debut novel The Arrivals, a book that is neither provocative nor controversial. Instead, I would describe it as quiet, subtle, and ordinary. It was also deeply moving.
The Arrivals explores the relationship between adult children and their parents. William and Ginny Owens are empty nesters who are enjoying their peaceful and orderly life in Burlington, Vermont. Until, one-by-one, their three adult children return home, each facing a different crisis. Soon, the house is crammed with grandchildren’s toys and dirty clothes, the den has become a makeshift guest room, dishes are overflowing in the sink, and William and Ginny are thrown back into a second parenthood, which they never imagined.
The beauty of this book is in the family’s normalcy. Their problems are not unusual, but universal. There is the career-driven sister-in-law who doesn’t quite fit in, the baby of the family who is still asking her parents for loans, the older child who refuses to share her problems with anyone out of embarrassment and pride. While the characters are recognizable, they are not caricatures. Rather, they are compassionately and deftly drawn. The strongest aspect of this novel may be Moore’s dialogue, particularly the conversations which she crafts between William and Ginny. These scenes are tender, funny, and completely real—a delight to read.
The Arrivals is a book that sneaks up on you. If you can relax a little and learn not to expect the worst possible scenario, you will find this novel about a perfectly normal family to be a wonderfully simple, but never simplistic book.