'Motherless Son', which appeared in the New Yorker in August 2019, is from a second collection, Olive Again. Olive is often, in fact usually, not very likable. She reminds me of someone who was given the wrong playbook when they embarked on life. And this story is very much in that vein.
Olive's son and his young family come to visit. Past visits have not gone well. Olive is not an easy person under the best of circumstances and despite observing how other families function seems unable to behave that way herself. She only has a gift for the child her son has fathered (he has two stepchildren). She doesn't buy the Cheerios he asked her to have, she seems pretty ill-prepared for one visitor, let alone six. She is repulsed by her daughter's breast-feeding. She makes no attempt to engage with anyone other than her son and his sired child.
Olive wants to tell her son that she is remarrying, but has not prepared him at all for this. He notices the house is emptying out, but still doesn't put it together. When he behaves like she might have done with her intended, she sees the parallels. She has raised a motherless child.
As in most stories about Olive there are moments when she is kind (she finds out her daughter-in-law is grieving and comforts her) and you wonder if this is the beginning of her understanding how to change, but she is never able to sustain it. She hears her son call her a narcissist and, of course, she is. But not in a Trumpian way but rather in a way where she is rarely able to step outside her own point of view.
Spending time with Olive is not for everyone, of course. But I always get insights from Strout's writing.