Review

Family Pictures

by Jane Green

Sylvie's life has had its fair share of troubles. Her mother has always been overbearing and difficult to love. Her first husband died quite suddenly when she was just a young wife and mother, leaving her to raise her daughter, Eve, on her own. Years have passed, though, and Sylvie now has what seems like a charmed life: a handsome, successful second husband; a beautiful, ambitious daughter; great friends; and a gorgeous home in the idyllic California city of La Jolla.

But just as Sylvie's aspirations to start her own small business begin to take off, the rest of her life is falling apart. Her mother's health is failing rapidly, and Sylvie finds sympathy hard to come by. Eve, now in high school, appears to be heading toward a struggle with serious eating disorders. Worst of all, her husband, the one person she should be able to trust and rely on through all of this, may be hiding secrets that will both dwarf and compound everything else that Sylvie is dealing with.

"[T]he emotions underlying their stories are genuine, as is the way each woman uses a traumatic event to take stock of --- and ultimately reinvent --- her own life."

Meanwhile, across the country in Connecticut, a woman named Maggie is encountering her own sea of troubles. She clawed her way up from her working-class Bronx background, painstakingly learning the speech patterns and mannerisms of the suburban upper class so that she could eventually marry into it. Now she has it all --- a handsome, successful husband, a house and garden that's the envy of the neighborhood, and kids who seem to be on the right track. She may not have any real friends among the snarky, social-climbing women of her set, and her husband may not be home as much as she'd like, but otherwise she has the perfect life. Or at least that's what she thinks until that life comes crashing spectacularly down around her.

As both women's lives are thrown into crisis, they must decide how best to care for themselves and for the rest of their families, how to shift gears and start over, and how ultimately to trust each other despite the bitter feelings that, unsurprisingly, characterize their uncomfortable and strange relationship. Ultimately, both Sylvie and Maggie --- strangers united by a shared betrayal --- might just find that the thing that ripped their lives apart is exactly what they needed to create a happier, more genuine life.

Jane Green's latest novel dramatizes a not-uncommon fear in marriages and relationships --- what if the person I love is not at all who I imagine him or her to be? --- and illustrates the aftermath through two women's different but complementary stories. Green's narrative may seem slightly far-fetched at times. The way that the two women encounter each other stretches believability a bit, but the emotions underlying their stories are genuine, as is the way each woman uses a traumatic event to take stock of --- and ultimately reinvent --- her own life.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 22, 2013

Family Pictures
by Jane Green

  • Publication Date: February 4, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 125004264X
  • ISBN-13: 9781250042644