cover image Family Pictures

Family Pictures

Sue Miller. HarperCollins Publishers, $19.95 (389pp) ISBN 978-0-06-016397-6

If Miller's new novel does not have the shock value of The Good Mother , it benefits from a deeper, more subtle conception of character and a sure sense of the complexities of family relationships. When their third child, Randall, is diagnosed as autistic in 1954, the happy marriage of Lainey and David Eberhardt begins to disintegrate. Subscribing to then-current medical theories, David, a psychiatrist, blames Randall's disease on Lainey. She retaliates with three subsequent pregnancies, ``accidents'' that result in the little girls whom their father sardonically calls ``the last straws.'' Seguing among the points of view of various family members, the narrative poignantly illustrates the widening effects of a domestic tragedy. As the Eberhardts' marriage goes awry, the children are wounded by David's emotional withdrawal and eventual departure, Lainey's hysterical need to prove she is ``a good mother,'' and the daily pain of living with and caring for a mentally impaired sibling with powerfully destructive urges. Miller again displays a perfect ear for the dialogue between parents and children. In depicting the contrast between the Eberhardts' responses to their son's affliction--David's scientific evaluation, Lainey's spiritual courage--she demonstrates the ways in which parenthood is a ``kind of reckless courage . . . a possibility for anguish and pain, and yet a miracle.'' 125,000 first printing; $125,000 ad/promo; BOMC main selection; author tour. (May)