The Jarrett's' have always believed themselves to be ordinary people, but after a their firstborn son, Jordan 'Buck' Jarrett, drowns and their second born son, Conrad, attempts suicide their whole world is turned upside-down. When Conrad comes home from his mental institution he feels that things have changed. Conrad's relationship with his parents has changed. The relationship that Conrad has with his parents change throughout the novel and are shaky all the way to the last page. When Conrad first comes home, he has an awkward relationship with both of his parents. He believes that his father is watching his every move checking for signals.
While it is true that both parents love Conrad, they both have different ways of showing their love. Conrad's father worries about him more than his mother does. Cal believes that communication will help heal the wounds, while Beth wants to leave the past behind. In a conversation with psychiatrist Dr. Berger Conrad is asked who does most of the worrying and he answers 'My father, mostly. This is his idea.' When asked about his mother he says 'She's-I don't know, she's not a worrier.' Clearly Conrad thinks that his mother doesn't care about him.
Conrad also goes on later to say, 'My mother and I do not connect.' Conrad's father does most of the worrying because he blames himself for Conrad's suicide attempt. Though the logical part of Cal's brain tells him it wasn't his fault he still believes that he should have paid more attention to Conrad. Conrad's mother, Beth, on the other hand thinks that Cal worries too much about Conrad. Beth thinks that Conrad is just trying to hurt her.
Conrad tells Beth that he would tell her more about him if he thought she 'gave a damn.' Conrad tells Beth that he thinks she is the one trying to hurt him. Conrad finally releases all of his emotions when his mother confronts him about his quitting the swimming team. Conrad tells Beth how what he thinks of her visiting other countries instead of visiting him at the mental institution. After the fight, Conrad tells his father 'She hates me. There's nothing I can do about it.' Beth is a very unforgiving person, and Conrad doesn't think that she will ever forgive him for his suicide attempt. Beth is not the type to forgive and forget.
She accuses Cal of being overprotective about Conrad and being oblivious to her feelings. It is very strange how Beth always refers to her son as 'him' and not Conrad. Later in the story, Conrad realizes his mother is afraid of strangers. Beth seems to act so indifferent to Conrad because she sees him as a stranger.
The Conrad that Beth knew would never attempt suicide. After that point Beth doesn't recognize Conrad anymore and perceives him as a stranger. Towards the end of the novel Beth seems to act nice to Conrad, but decides that she needs time away by herself to think.