Sue Miller’s novel, Family Pictures, represents a double edged narrative for the narrator Nine Eberhardt; in one part of the novel Nina is anxiously looking forward to becoming a mother, while in other parts of the novel she reflects on what happened in her own childhood. After reading the novel, it becomes quite clear that both Nina’s family of origin and the family that she is currently trying to build are in both mired in a number of psychological quandaries. What is perhaps most interesting about the novel, from a psychological or social work perspective is the manner by which generations of children grow up to perpetuate the same behaviors that they had placed upon them onto their own children—much like cases of sexual and physical abuse. In Nina’s case, however, it was not so much the a case of physical or sexual abuse, but rather a series of psychologically damaging events that invariably destroyed Nina’s, as well as her five sibling’s, self-esteem.
Looking over the novel, it seems that the most important intervention that one could attempt would be in the case of the narrator. Because Nina is about to give birth, she is invariably looking back over her childhood, looking for patterns of parenting to model. Research has systematically shown that this type of reflection is common in expectant mothers and fathers, as well. As she looks back at her own life and family, she finds that there are a number situations which shaped the person that she invariably becomes. Although Nina does not seem particularly disturbed by any of her revelations, she seems to have some to an understanding of how her childhood has impacted her life. Speaking of her mother at the end of the novel, Nina reflects: “There was never the sense of something deep and abiding between us, though; never the sense of something to forgive on either side, that has run under even my parents’ most peaceful moments”.
Despite the fact that Nina has no hard feelings toward her parents, or her siblings either—especially Randall who often received special attention because he was autistic—the environment in which Nina grew up in was arguably not extensively supportive. Nina recalls that even as a small child she and her younger siblings felt that her family was divided:
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 name, we though 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.