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?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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