“Family Pictures” written well, but unoriginal

Bobby Blanchard

“Family Pictures” is not good enough to read and not bad enough to hate. The book isn’t awful. It doesn’t put you to sleep, and it doesn’t lack clarity. But there is nothing good to be said about it either. The book presents nothing new, nothing exciting and adds nothing to the landscapes of literature or fiction.

Jane Green’s “Family Pictures” is about an improbable bond two women develop. Sylvie’s life is nothing extraordinary. She must deal with an overbearing, nursing home-bound mother, an angsty teenage daughter whose only dream is to attend NYU and a homogenous and gossipy circle of friends. Her husband is a “greek god” and she has a phenomenal sex life. 

Everything changes for Sylvie when she connects with a woman on the other side of the country named Maggie. Maggie lives the perfect life — she has a rich husband, a big house and is in good standing in her community. But Maggie finds her world flipped upside down when, by chance, Sylvie’s daughter comes to visit.

If this all sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Many of these characters are tropes that have been used too many times, and Green does not do anything original with them.

Very little more can be said about the plot without giving the big “twist” away, but it’s something you have probably read, watched or heard before. The plot is built on a premise that takes more than a third of the book to reach, even though it’s incredibly simple. The story slugs along so slowly that it becomes painfully obvious what is going to happen early on. Green overdoes the foreshadowing, and the parallels and symbolism are reminiscent of eighth-grade poetry.

The book is written well enough. The characters are well developed, well rounded and intriguing. Green presents and develops a linear plot, but the book doesn’t do anything that’s exciting — it just clops along at a mediocre pace. The plot premise is interesting enough, but it isn’t developed in an exciting direction. The book is something that’s been done before, over and over, and that makes it not worth the time.

Again — it is not that this book is bad. It just really isn’t any good. If I had to sum up the book in one word, “meh” would be the one I would choose.

The ending to “Family Pictures,” while sweet, wraps up all too fast. Everything is suddenly resolved easily. Warm friendships replace bitter feelings, the dying somehow survive and broken hearts heal.

For the reader who doesn’t read very much, “Family Pictures” might actually be an enjoyable book. The plot makes sense, the characters are interesting and the story has a conclusion that wraps everything together. But anyone who reads more than five titles a year should steer clear of “Family Pictures” because Green does not offer anything they have not already seen before.