Who can you trust if not the ones you love? That is the question at the heart of Family Pictures, an emotional, page-turning story about what it means to be a family from New York Times bestselling author, JANE GREEN
"Green's novels consistently deliver believable, accessible, heartfelt, often heartwarming stories about real people, problems, and feelings."-Redbook
Sylvie and Maggie are two women living on opposite coasts with children about to leave the nest for school. Both are in their forties with husbands who travel more than either would like. The looming emptiness of their respective homes has left them feeling anxious and lonely, needing their husbands to be home now more than ever. It isn't until Eve, Sylvie's daughter, happens to befriend Maggie's daughter that the similarities between these two women become shockingly real. A huge secret has remained well hidden for years until now-and their lives will be blown apart as dark truths from the past come to the surface. Can these two women learn to forgive, for the sake of their children...and for themselves?
"This gripping story is ultimately one of redemption."-Library Journal
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Date of Birth:May 31, 1968
Place of Birth:London, England
Education:"Managed to drop out of Fine Art Degree at University."
Read an Excerpt
By Jane Green
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Jane Green
All rights reserved.
Back then, when life seemed so simple, before she knew what life was capable of throwing at her, Sylvie was a natural worrier. Anxiety followed her around like a small dank cloud, convincing her that something terrible was just about to happen. As a child, she worried about her mother's rages, which didn't stop them coming. As a young woman, she worried about making enough money as a textile designer, which meant she had to supplement her career by painting houses. As a young mother, she worried Eve would roll onto her front and never wake up, and when Jonathan was late home from work, she worried something had happened to him.
She wasn't worried, however, the morning he sat on her side of the bed, leaning over to tie his cycling shoes before rolling gently on top of her and kissing her, tiptoeing his fingers up her inner thigh as she gave up all pretense of being asleep and giggled, shoving his hand away.
"Nice ass," she called out, opening one eye as he reached the doorway, causing him to spin and adopt a model pose before blowing her a kiss and clomping down the stairs.
Thirty minutes later, she was cutting a piece of toast into slices for Eve, who was meticulously nibbling up to the crusts before giving each crust a name and personality, dancing them around her small purple melamine plate.
When a police car pulled up outside the window, Sylvie froze. Evie, sensing something, climbed onto her mother's lap, curling up and sucking her thumb. There was no way they could have known, and yet, they both knew.
Moments later, the doorbell rang; she knew the police were on the other side. Before she even opened the door, she could see their expressions of sympathy, knew they would gently ask her if she knew a Jonathan Haydn; when she said she was his wife, they would look down at the ground for a second, their faces racked with sadness, wishing they didn't have to tell this young wife and mother that her husband would not be coming home, wishing right now they were anywhere else but here.
* * *
For years, she wasn't able to say the words that now come so easily, without her throat closing, or her eyes pricking. My first husband died. Brain aneurysm. Yes. It was a tragedy.
Fourteen years later, she can say the words without feeling a wave of loss wash over her. She can, and does, stop suddenly while walking down a street, or in a store, because she has seen someone who has his walk. Or smell. Or hair. But now she can stop, remember, and keep moving, without being engulfed by loss, and grief, and pain.
She moved to La Jolla, found friends through Eve's kindergarten, was building a new life in which she was, if not happy, content.
She worked in an art gallery part-time, occasionally exhibiting and selling her paintings in one of the cafés in town. She had stopped worrying, waiting for the worst to happen, because it had already happened and she had survived.
On her own for three years after Jonathan's death, she had become self-sufficient, a tight unit with Eve. Dating didn't interest her, despite the kind offers to fix her up; neither did the prospect of merging her life with someone else's. Dating, kissing, making love with someone other than Jonathan would have been a betrayal she wasn't willing to make.
When she did make it, it didn't feel like a betrayal. It felt right, as if Jonathan had given her his blessing. Eleven years after meeting Mark, Sylvie does not often indulge memories of Jonathan. As the years have passed, she has, largely out of respect for Mark, allowed them to fade. She was so young when she was with Jonathan, so unaware of the enduring nature of marriage, of the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the work required to keep you in the game.
She had only four years with Jonathan. When he died, they were still in the honeymoon period, never having a chance to reach the stage where they irritated each other, fought over nothing, simply passed each other in the house, barely speaking a word.
Until she met Mark, and for some time afterwards, Sylvie always felt Jonathan was watching over her. She would talk to him in the car; ask him a question, and turn on the radio and find it would be answered by the lyrics of a song; pick up a book and turn to a random page, to find the words that were exactly what she needed to hear.
There is no such thing as coincidence, she would think, blowing a kiss of thanks to the heavens. This is Jonathan, as loud and clear as he is able to be.
* * *
When Mark came along eleven years ago, she knew Jonathan had sent him to her, that it was no coincidence their worlds kept colliding, that this was somehow meant to be.
Even the fact that Mark has always traveled extensively has been a positive. It has allowed her to keep the close bond with Eve, to be present for her in a way she isn't able to do when Mark is home.
This marriage is entirely different from her first. From the beginning, this felt less like a fairy tale, more real. She and Mark have never lain in bed whispering fantasies about their lives together, shared the wonderment of giving birth; they have not had time together without children, lazing in bed all weekend making love, going out only to run to the deli on the corner for panini and chocolate.
What they do have is what Sylvie now thinks of as grown-up, proper love. She is, still, fiercely attracted to him, respects him enormously, adores how kind he is, how he takes care of them.
She has watched marriages all around them fall apart in the last couple of years. The words "midlife crisis" are whispered in knowing tones as husbands are discovered sleeping with their secretaries, wives having affairs with neighbors or simply leaving to "find themselves."
Sylvie knew she was safe. Whatever else might come between them, Mark would not have an affair. He was appalled and dismayed each time another couple came undone at the hands of someone else.
"Thank God you, at least, take your marriage vows seriously," Sylvie's friend Angie had said, narrowing her eyes as she glanced sideways at her husband. "Him on the other hand? Not so sure. But he knows what'll happen to him if he even thinks about it."
They had all laughed, Sylvie with the security of knowing her marriage was sacred. Nothing would ever go wrong.
And yet for the past few months, a lot feels as if it's not so much going wrong as not going exactly right. Eve will be leaving home to go to college in September, and Sylvie isn't ready, is starting to feel abandoned, even though rationally, of course, she knew this day was coming, knows Eve has to leave.
Six months ago, her job at the bookstore ended, and the last six months have been spent attempting to look after her mother, doing the odd bit of painting, which no longer holds the thrill it once did, and worrying about what on earth she will do when Eve leaves.
She knows her hormones are playing a part, for her periods are erratic, and Mark has started referring to her PMS as OMS, for "ongoing menstrual stress," which Sylvie finds either hilarious or infuriating, depending on the day.
She is going through changes; they are going through changes, significant ones, ones in which they will need to support each other, but Mark seems utterly disconnected. He isn't working out more, hasn't bought himself a new Ferrari or a new haircut, but he is distracted and unsupportive.
As a result, they have started squabbling in a way they never had before.
After years of knowing exactly where she stood, Sylvie finds that insecurity has pushed its way in the door. Who is she supposed to be if not a mother? If Mark didn't travel all the time, she would be fine, because she would have the role of wife. It didn't matter before, because she held the role of full-time mother. With Eve leaving, and no job, how is she supposed to define herself?
Sylvie needs her husband, but he is away more than ever. Sylvie is starting to wonder if her mother's right: if Mark is having an affair.CHAPTER 2
Until very recently, Sylvie would always joke that Mark didn't even know how to flirt, let alone conduct a full-blown affair.
Despite his looks, his obvious charisma, the fact that women flocked to him, he never seemed to realize it, which is why Sylvie noticed him in the first place.
Her cart got away from her in the parking lot of the grocery store. This tall, good-looking, athletic man caught it before it reached the traffic. A laughing thank you, where you couldn't not gaze a little at his boy-next-door looks, his gleaming teeth, the dimples that gave him a cuteness that made his looks accessible rather than intimidating.
She didn't think about him again until two days later, standing behind him at Starbucks. He turned to see her, and laughed. They chatted briefly, about nothing in particular. What a small world it is! Had she any more runaway vehicles she needed help with?
Once coffee was ordered and collected, they stood awkwardly, before wishing each other a great day and walking off in different directions. This time, he left an impression. Could it mean anything, running into him again? If it did, surely they would have ended up having coffee together, or perhaps him asking for her phone number.
He was not, physically, what she thought she liked, although objectively Sylvie knew he was the type of man most women would swoon over. She had never liked the big, blond jock-type. She was drawn to thin men, dark, olive skinned. Intense and funny. Like Jonathan.
Classic good looks had always intimidated her. As pretty as people tell Sylvie she is, she has never felt pretty, nor worthy of the men everyone else wants. She has instead been drawn to interesting rather than handsome, flawed rather than perfect. The men she dated in high school were artists, and poets, and musicians. The Starbucks man, whom her mind kept coming back to, looked like the quintessential football star.
She was struck by his comfort in his skin, and his lack of arrogance. He seemed open and easy, and hadn't attempted to flirt, which she appreciated.
After the Starbucks meeting, she thought of him sporadically throughout the day, each time finding herself smiling. She had never seen him before, and would likely not see him again. She knew nothing about him, other than—now—his name.
Ships that pass in the night.
Later that week, she and Angie were having lunch at Nine-Ten, both chatting animatedly, Sylvie vaguely noticing three men, besuited, at the table next to them, awaiting a fourth to fill the empty chair.
She didn't see the fourth arrive, but she heard him, heard a familiar voice. Faltering, she wasn't going to disturb his lunch, until he looked up and caught her eye, stopping his "hellos" in midflow before apologizing to his colleagues, explaining there was someone he had to say hello to.
This time he left with her phone number.
Their first date—Sylvie wasn't entirely sure it was a date—was a hike from the cove to the shore. They talked nonstop, accidentally brushing hands as they walked, with an obvious chemistry that didn't explain why Mark was so reticent.
He didn't call for a few days after their walk. Just as Sylvie decided she wouldn't hear from him again, he phoned. They met for coffee, and this time he told her his story.
He was divorced. No children. No serious relationships since. At first he threw himself into work as a welcome distraction, which then became a habit, swiftly taking over his life. He was still finding his way when it came to women, and he wasn't at all sure he was ready for dating, let alone a relationship.
He hadn't expected to feel this way.
It explained why he was holding back. Sylvie, who hadn't been looking for anything or anyone either, suggested they become friends.
For five months they were friends, each attempting to ignore growing feelings, neither willing to confess, until Mark showed up at her house at lunchtime, a carton of chicken soup in hand because she was getting over a cold.
He sat on the bed to chat, bending his head to kiss her during the heavy silence, with a tenderness and sweetness that reminded Sylvie of Jonathan.
That was all that reminded Sylvie of Jonathan.
Mark's body was smooth, and golden, and strong. It was like having a Greek god in her bed. Everything about him was solid and reliable, golden and good. So very different from anything and anyone she had ever experienced before.
When he suggested Eve have a sleepover elsewhere on Saturday night, Sylvie arranged it, luxuriating in the entire night with Mark. The next day, he disappeared briefly only to return with a toolbox, putting up all the paintings that had been propped up against the wall since Sylvie moved in.
He was too good to be true. Except he wasn't. Everyone loved him. Women wanted to be around him—oh, how they wanted to be around him!—men wanted to be him. Sylvie, not the jealous type, teased him about the effect he had on women, who did indeed appear to simper when he was around.
All these years, Sylvie thought she was fine on her own. An independent woman and single mother who not only could do it all, but did it all. She had had brief relationships, but never allowed herself to fall for anyone. The men she had been involved with were all poor facsimiles of Jonathan. None were right. None permanent.
Here, suddenly, was the very opposite of Jonathan, the only similarity being that people reacted to Mark in much the same way as they had to Jonathan, but for different reasons. Jonathan made people feel special by listening to them, drawing them out. Strangers were surprised at how good he made them feel, found themselves telling Jonathan their most intimate secrets.
Mark made people feel good just by his presence. People were drawn to him, vied for his attention, while he quietly stood at the edge of the party, waiting for the crowds to gather, as they always did.
Trite to say it was simply because of his looks, but his looks were impossible to ignore. Admirers were drawn to him, like moths to a flame, with the hope that some of his magic would rub off on them.
In 2000, almost a year after they met, Sylvie, Mark and Eve, Sylvie's mother, Angie and Simon as witnesses, stood before a judge and were married, going home to a luncheon in the garden that Angie had prepared, under a white canopy with gardenias at each corner and mock orange spiraling up the pillars.
Eve, then seven, danced around the table in a froth of organza and tulle as the grown-ups watched her adoringly. She alternated between Sylvie and Mark, covering both with kisses, climbing on each of their laps, sitting on one and taking the hand of the other. Simon made an impromptu speech commenting on the fact that Eve was perhaps the happiest person in the garden today, which brought much laughter.
It was true. They were a family. Meant to be. Eve adored him from the outset, and had been calling him Papa Mark long before they discussed marriage, refusing to listen to an embarrassed Sylvie when she tried to suggest another name.
* * *
Eve may have been happiest, but Sylvie too was happy. She loved Mark, was content with Mark. She hadn't realized how much she'd missed having a partner until she had one again.
This wasn't the life she'd thought she was going to have, but it was, nevertheless, a wonderful life. She and Jonathan had plans to travel, to see the world, to live in Thailand, Australia, India; to bring Eve with them and squeeze every last drop out of life.
Her life with Mark includes little travel, and little seeking, on any level. She had loved that Jonathan was a seeker, but loves, now, that Mark is not: he may travel coast-to-coast for work, but his lack of adventure makes her think of him as grounded, steady, secure. She knows where she is with him, is grateful for the security—even sameness—at this stage in her life.
In many ways they have a perfect relationship. The amount of time Mark travels hasn't, until recently, worried her. Sylvie kept busy. A part-time job, until a demanding and unwell mother forced her to give that up.
They had all thought life would be easier once Clothilde, Sylvie's high-maintenance French mother, entered the assisted living facility after rehab, but her mother had never been easy, and the car accident was hardly going to change that.
Excerpted from Family Pictures by Jane Green. Copyright © 2013 Jane Green. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Reading Group Guide
1. First, a show of hands: Who among you knows someone who appeared to have picture-perfect life--only to see it all come crashing down? Take a moment to talk about perception versus reality in marriage and in family life. Did reading Family Pictures force you to take a closer look at the lives of your friends, your neighbors, yourselves? And if so, what did you see?
2. When we first meet Sylvie, she is contemplating what her life will be like once Eve goes away to college and she is on her own. Do you think it's common for mothers to feel this way? Discuss the ways in which the female characters in Family Pictures struggle to find and define themselves in the domestic realm and beyond. You may wish to share your own personal experiences as well.
3. In an early scene with Sylvie and their friends, Mark tells a story about how his identity was stolen years ago. "That's why I'm paranoid," he said. "I know that people aren't necessarily who they say they are." This is a recurring theme throughout the book; it's also an example of how the author uses foreshadowing to set the stage for the eventual, shocking truth about Mark. What other examples can you recall? Could you predict any of the plot points? What were the most powerful "aha!" moments in Family Pictures for you?
4. Sylvie performs exhaustive online searches to locate photographs of Mark and his other family. Maggie's landlords learn everything about her scandalous past via Google. Eve chats on Facebook to make new friends and Grace and Buck do the same to stay in touch. Talk a bit about the characters' "virtual reality" in Family Pictures. What issues of privacy and/or oversharing do we all face in the Internet era? Are we closer to each other than ever before? Or does living in the second dimension allow us to carefully curate our identities...and lead double lives?
5. In the marital realm "we're flawed," says Sylvie. "None of us is infallible." Do you agree? Do you view the laws of marriage in black and white? Or do you tend to see them in shades of gray? (E. L. James pun not intended!)
6. After Mark's deception tears their lives apart, Sylvie is shielded by her friend Angie's fierce love and loyalty; Maggie finds comfort in the company of Patty, Barb, and Mrs. W; and, in the end, Sylvie and Maggie are healed by one another. Talk about the power of female friendships in Family Pictures. (You may choose to bring Eve and Claudia/ Grace, into the discussion as well.)
7. "I have lost everything," Maggie says. "But in doing so, I can't help but start to wonder what 'everything' meant." How would you define Maggie's everything? What is your own definition of "having it all?"
8. Eve's eating disorder is one of the darker elements of the novel. Why do you think she starved herself? What was she trying to show or hide, control or let go of? Moreover, how did Eve's illness function--for better or for worse--as a narrative device to bring all the characters closer together?
9. Another show of hands: Even though they're obviously not related by blood--and did not know one another at all until they were young adults--do you find the love affair between Eve and Chris acceptable? Or too close for comfort? Discuss your reasons.
10. The real definition of a "modern family" is as good as anyone's guess. What is your impression of the final snapshot we are left with in the novel? Is everybody in this family happier, as Sylvie suggests, than when Mark was in it? How do the losses measure against the gains? Do the ends justify the means?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Maybe my expectations were too high, but I thought too many pages were devoted to bland dialogue that added nothing to the story. The premise of the story was good, but the characters weren't fleshed out enough for me to spend dozens of pages with them as they discussed dinner plans, chatted with girlfriends, and wondered about their career plans. The last half of the book showed the most promise, but by then I was too irritated for it too matter. I think Jane Green has great potential, but this book was not her finest work. I'll still check out other books of hers, but will try one or two from the library first before parting with anymore money.
As an avid fan of jane green, i was disappointed to find she wrote such an unrealistic, sappy novel.
I am an avid Jane Green fan and am wondering if she really wrote the book. The story was predictable and unbelievable at the same time. The writing was awful and the book was just awful. The writing style was terrible and incoherent at times. Jane is a great writer and I usually look forward to her books, however I feel that she is starting to slip. Her best books were the ones that took place in London. Possibly she needs to go back to London to write. I am so disappointed.
Jane Green never disappoints,her writing really pulls me in and then i cant put the book down till I'm finished!
Compelling like all Green's books, while simple and easy to read, it was a page turner. A great short read for Spring Break. My only complaint would be the characters and lack of depth of each. I found myself resembled in one of the main characters and felt she needed a better ending; perhaps Green's connection with Connecticut brought one character to a 'better' ending than the other. Of course, the story line was great, a little 'fantastic' but good none-the-less. Would have loved to see more, maybe another book with the same characters from the last part of the book.
The reason I like Jane Green's novels is that they deal with issues that are realistic and that any woman may face at some point in her life. While the main plot line was outside of the norm in that it doesn't happen very often, it wasn't that bad...it was the plot contrivances that led to the revelation of the secret that were just silly. Disappointing...the quality of her novels has definitely gone down over the last few books.
I typically enjoy books by Jane Green and was excited when this one was released. However, I was very disappointed. The plot of the book jumped all over the place and was very contrived. Characters were not well developed with a few characters appearing seemingly randomly with no real purpose to the story.
I enjoyed this book from beginning to end...kept me engaged and wanting to read "just two more pages" each night while falling asleep! This was my first time reading Jane Green but will be purchasing another soon.
Follow up to her 1st novel with the same characters. Great story line and detail. It made you really understand and feel their pain. I'm glad I ordered the nook version for my iPad.
I found it hard to believe that both wives could be portrayed as such incompetent, childish women. It was hard for me to grasp how either could have believed the lies and lived in such ignorance. I didn't feel much sympathy for either of them. Also found the coincidence of the two daughters meeting hard to believe. I did find the book readable as the premise was interesting. If the characters had been more self-sufficient and less shallow I might have rated this book higher.
I believe any author can write a good book. However it takes a special author to really get me into a book so deep that I connect and root for the people in it. I have read several of Janes books and they are all excellent! Keep up the good work! Your books make me think of how to make my life and those around me better and happier.
This was an interesting book. I believe you have to suspend disbelief sometimes in order to enjoy a book or movie. So, while the ending isn't probable, it feels great to think it could be. I thought the book was unique and I enjoyed it.
Boring and extremely predictable!!!
Loved this story. Jane Green did it again. Excellent didnt want it to end. Loved all the characters.
After getting into "brit chick lit", I came across Jane Green, hoping to find a similar genre. I was very off! I would probably compare Green to Jodi Picoult. This book is NOT in any way cute, uplifting or very good. It was mostly depressing w/ way too many unimportant details. I found the whole story to be too much of a downer to enjoy it, the characters were so sad!
Not great for Green. Too much idle gossip and predictability. Also, it's unrealistic and the characters lack depth and are unlikable. Many random elements in the story and there are no unique elements. It was difficult to push myself through the first 3/4 of the novel. I was disappointed because I think Green's readers are more intelligent than this novel suggests.
Everyone hides a secret or two Sylvie and Maggie are two women with great children, wonderful friends, and an amazing husband. The problems in their lives are minimal and nothing coming cannot be handled. All that changes in the blink of an eye when a freak coincidence causes the calm on the water that is their existence to become a tsunami. When everything comes apart at the seams and the two women are forced to begin again one woman builds from strength while the other woman wanders with no foreseeable course of action. Granted this disaster is in no part their creation but when suffering through a nightmare at some point you have to wake up and face the day. The changes that take place, the things you must give up, and the sacrifices you are forced to make will show your true character. When answering the question of "do you like this book" one wow it was amazing will on begin to describe how phenomenal the story is. Jane Green consistently writes stories that show how strong women are under any circumstance and where our strength comes from.
This is a very good twist of fate, and good read. it actually happened to a relative. so made it very believable
This book was great! It intertwines real life problems with characters everyone can associate with. Please read!
I have read many Jane Green books. I loved this story. If you like her writing you will enjoy this one! It is fast reading, although I have read this before "beach season" this would be a great beach read!
This book is entertaining & fast reading. Good not great.
It took awhile to get into this book. The first 1/3 was kind of boring but finally it did get quite good. I would have liked as much background on Maggie & her family as there was on Sylvie and hers. This is a story of two women living very different lives, very far away from each other. Sylvie is a woman of simple tastes and creative interests who lost her husband years ago and now her daughter and her are putting their lives back together slowly… Maggie is a rich yet insecure woman married 25 years with 3 kids and a very busy husband. I really can not say much more with out giving the plot away… these two women and their families come together in many Unexpected, horrible and joyous ways. I laughed and cried while reading this book and would recommend it.
This was just OK. Not as good as her other books.
Great story and fun read! Looking forward to reading more by this author.
good but I prefer Too Crazy To Live to Beautiful to Die This was a good read though too.