A Masterful, Engrossing Novel About The Life Of A Large Family That Is Deeply Bounded By The Stranger In Their Midst — An Autistic Child
The whole world could not have broken the spirit and strength of the Eberhardt family of 1948. Lainey is a wonderful if slightly eccentric mother. David is a good father, sometimes sarcastic, always cool-tempered. Two wonderful children round out the perfect picture. Then the next child arrives — and life is never the same again. Over the next forty years, the Eberhardt family struggles to survive a flood tide of upheaval and heartbreak, love and betrayal, passion and pain…hoping they can someday heal their hearts.
“Profoundly honest, shapely, ambitious, engrossing.”
—New York Times Book Review
“Absolutely flawless. It captures perfectly the sass and grit of family life. Harrowing and funny and haunting.”
— Chicago Tribune
“Miller does an extraordinary job of representing the terrible (or wonderful), thick intimacy of family life.”
— “San Francisco Chronicle
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This was the way it had worked, I thought: My parents had made their family, they had had the requisite three pretty children, they’d bought a house on a street in Chicago where other young couples were buying houses in the years after the war. My father’s career was flourishing, they loved each other.
And then it all went haywire.
Randall sat in their midst, more beautiful than the first two, but immobile. At two, he still didn’t walk. He didn’t speak, except when whole sentences, out of context, dropped from his mouth, as though someone invisible were using him as a ventriloquist’s dummy. He seemed possessed, my mother has said. Enchanted. Under a spell.
Sometime in the process of Randall’s diagnosis – he was variably and at different times thought to be deaf, retarded, autistic, and schizophrenic – my mother got pregnant with me, as though she thought another child would break the spell. Mary followed a year later, and then Sarah a year and a half after that. From the start we knew what was expected of us. We were to be normal, happy. We were to make up for Randall’s illness, Liddie’s resentment, Mack’s wild struggles. Sometimes, looking at us, my mother’s eyes would fill with tears. “Oh, my perfect babies,” she’d say, and swoop down on whoever was closest to fold her up against her broad, strong body.
For my parents, and for Lydia and Mack, deciding what Randall’s illness meant and figuring out what to feel and do about it became lifelong preoccupations. Mostly it meant they struggled with each other, since they all disagreed about him. For us, though, for Mary and Sarah and me, Randall was a given. He was just there, silent and for the most part lost in his inner world. Sometimes he was in the way, but sometimes he was useful to us: he was the troll under the bridge, he was the baby in the carriage, he was the bogeyman, the prince, the father.