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The whole world could not have broken the spirit and strength of the Eberhardt family of 1948. Lainey is a wonderful if slightly eccentric mother. David is a good father, sometimes sarcastic, always cool-tempered. Two wonderful children round out the perfect picture. Then the next child arrives -- and life is never the same again. Over the ...
The whole world could not have broken the spirit and strength of the Eberhardt family of 1948. Lainey is a wonderful if slightly eccentric mother. David is a good father, sometimes sarcastic, always cool-tempered. Two wonderful children round out the perfect picture. Then the next child arrives -- and life is never the same again. Over the next forty years, the Eberhardt family struggles to survive a flood tide of upheaval and heartbreak, love and betrayal, passion and pain...hoping they can someday heal their hearts.
It's my brother Mack's birthday. He's fourteen. We're all sitting at the table in the dining room. The curtains are drawn, though you can see the glint of summer evening light through the cracks. When my mother rounds the corner from the kitchen with the glowing cake, we burst into ragged song.
Heaped next to Mack's place on the table are his opened presents — odd homemade things from me and my younger sisters; but a nice sweater my mother gave him on behalf on my other brother, and three Roy Orbison forty-fives from my older sister, Liddie. You can also see the neck of the guitar my parents have bought him, leaning against the table's edge. It seems to me that color rises to Mack's face as we sing to him, though perhaps it's just the soft light from the candles that makes him look this way — young, and suddenly sweet and shy. When my eyes meet his, I'm embarrassed; I feel a catch in my voice.
The moment we've finished the song, Mack leans forward and blows the candles out. In the silent twilit aftermath of our applause, my other brother — my autistic brother, Randall — speaks. "Happy birthday, dear Mackie," he says.
We are all silent, and then Liddie, the oldest, laughs, "My God!" she says. "Did you hear him? My God!"
"I wouldn't get excited, Lydia," my father says. "That's about his annual quota of words, isn't it?" And my mother's face, which has turned in astonishment to her younger son in the dim light, instantly drops. My father changes the subject; someone gets up to pull back the curtains on the windows, to let what'sleft of the daylight in.
This is the way I remember it. But I'm wrong.
My mother tells me he never spoke after the age of four or so. My sister Liddie says it's her memory, her story, one she told me much later. I've appropriated it, she says, the way I do with everything in our family's history. I've changed it to suit myself — made myself older, an observer, when in reality I was an infant when it happened, and Mary and Sarah weren't even born.
And yet. And yet it seems as clear to me as a picture I might have taken. I could swear this was exactly what happened.
But that's the way it is in a family, isn't it? The stories get passed around, polished, embellished. Liddie's version or Mack's version changes as it becomes my version. And when I tell them, it's not just that the events are different but that they all mean something different too. Something I want them to mean. Or need them to. And of course, there's also the factor of time. Of how your perspective, your way of telling the story — of seeing it — changes as time passes. As you change.
Now, for example, I see that we must always have known, my younger sisters and I, that we hadn't been wanted or planned, that there was something complicated and painful for our parents in our very existence. But what we would have said then was just that there were too many of us, too many children in our family. So this might be one place to start my version of our story: how we felt about ourselves, in our world, where every house spilled kids into the Chicago street.
Most of them spilled two or three, though. Four was a little excessive. Five absurd. And there were six of us. Six meant something different, a special case in some way. Catholic. Or a man who couldn't keep his hands off his wife. A neurotic breeder of a woman. People would ask, "Six of you?" and yes never seemed a sufficient answer. Occasionally I would say of myself and my younger sisters, "Well, we're the extras," passing along one of our father's nicknames for us without understanding it — as though it might answer the question. And sometimes it seemed to. "Oh!" the questioner would say. "Yes."
Certainly even then we thought of the family as neatly divided down the middle. The first three, Macklin, Lydia, and Randall, were the special ones. Even those names, we thought, showed greater imagination, greater involvement on our parents' part, than ours did: Nina, Mary, Sarah. Clearly by that time they had run out of gas.
But we didn't necessarily connect any of this with our father's nicknames for us. These were embarrassing not because of what they meant — which none of us stopped to consider then anyway — but because they existed at all. Not because they pointed to some quality we shared, but because they pointed to us. He called us "the unexpected guests," or "the surprise party." He would lower his book and watch us as we pal passed his study door, the three of us always together. Under his high, narrow forehead, his blue eyes had the trick that eyes in certain portraits or photographs do, of seeming to follow you while actually remaining steady, unmoving. "There they go, the extras," he'd say. Or, "Ah, the fleet's in. The Nina, the Pint-sized, the Santa Maria." We were "the little pitchers of health," "the coup de grace," "the last straws." We complained and laughed and whined about it, we told our mother, but it only made him worse.
"Pay no attention to him," Mother said when she was in a good mood. But when she was in the dumps, her mouth went tight. She would turn away from him quickly in anger. She'd pick up again whatever she was drinking — cold, milky coffee, flat beer, an inch or two of something brown and sticky in the bottom of a glass.
Family Pictures. Copyright © by Sue Miller. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted August 4, 2009
I read many positive reviews of Sue Miller and expected this to be a well-written entertaining book. Unfortunately, it was neither. The story jumped around and forced the reader to make many assumptions since the character development was sketchy. I waited 448 pages for the story to grab me, but it never happened. I was extremely disappointed.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 11, 2007
Posted March 5, 2007
Posted December 23, 2006
This book was such a disappointment after reading While I was Gone and others by Sue Miller. It just rambled on and on and never took you anywhere. There wasn't any kind of 'plot' with a beginning, middle and end - especially no end. I kept waiting for something more, but never found it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 7, 2006
I would have like to know more about the families experience with Randall. He has autism and was forgotten about through most of the book. The other characters were well developed and interesting to follow. I also has a hard time with the spelling errors in the book....drove me crazy!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 5, 2004
I love Sue Miller's style and how she gets right into the heart and mind of a female character. I don't think this book lacks that either. She does tell you things about a character that make them real and lovable. The book could have been great if there was more of a structured plot. I felt like I was being led down a path that never went anywhere. I also like to be shocked, so if you are looking for just a relaxing, realistic story about a family, this book might be for you. One thing that the book does do well is give us a glimpse of what it might be like to be in a family with an autistic child.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 25, 2008
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