The American family--that one subject matter that's proven an undepletable mine for writers--gets another thorough going-over in Miller's second novel. And what rich veins she uncovers in a book that should further establish her reputation, even among those who felt skeptical about The Good Mother. Here, Miller widens her canvas to explore the complicated sources of trauma in a large family--Lainey and David Eberhardt, married shortly after WW II, and their half-dozen children who break down into two groups. First come Liddie, Mack, and Randall--the latter born severely retarded, the piece of grit in the familial oyster, around whom layers of emotional secretions form. In him, Lainey finds a perfect receptacle for love and histrionics. David, the cool psychiatrist who blames Lainey for Randall's retardation and can't allow his son to become the modus operandi of their lives, suffers stoically through his wife's three subsequent pregnancies (her way of making up for Randall), which produce Nina, Mary, and Sarah. These children, "the last straws," as David sometimes calls them, will bear the brunt of their parents' eventual separation and divorce. For a while, Mack stands in for his absent father, even while he undergoes a difficult adolescence during the Vietnam era. And years later, after Randall has been institutionalized, it falls to Nina to come to terms with the Eberhardt muddle--to embrace "the great loving carelessness at the heart of every family's life." Miller tells this tale from several viewpoints that produce memorable segments documenting Lainey's half. crazed, deeply sensual maternalism, Nina's struggle to see herself as an individual, Mack's identification with Randall (whom he once calls his twin), and David's hunger for a quieter life. Oddly, Randall remains the undramatic cipher, functioning largely as a symbol. Still, around him, the Eberhardts mesmerize, thanks to Miller's fresh eye and ceaseless probings.