Tag Archives: human frailties

Full of Grace

 

pictures of youPictures of You: A Novel by Caroline Leavitt (Algonquin Books, $13.95, 336 pages)

There was no cause and effect. There was no karma. The truth was that he wasn’t so sure he understood how the world worked anymore.

At the opening of Pictures of You, two women — April and Isabelle — are literally driving away from their marriages when they collide into each other on a foggy highway. Only Isabelle survives. This leaves three survivors, including Isabelle’s husband Charlie, April’s husband Sam and his needy 9-year-old son, Sam. In his neediness, Sam comes to view Isabelle as an angel placed on earth to save him.

It’s quite an innovative set-up for an extremely well written novel by Caroline Leavitt. Leavitt writes in a calm, methodical, factual style that brings to mind both Michelle Richmond and Diane Hammond; and like those authors (and Elizabeth Berg) she intends to impart a few of life’s lessons in the process of telling a story. One lesson has to do with powerlessness: “You could think you understood things, but the truth was that you could never see the full picture of someone else’s life.”

Than there’s the fact that we look for something more than human in times of grief and trouble: “Maybe tomorrow, the angel might be the one to come for him.” “People believed in angels when they were most in trouble.”

…he had somehow photographed her so that her shoulders were dark and burly, as if she had wings under her dress… (as if) she might spread them to lift off the ground and fly away.

Sam’s desire to make something sacred out of the very human Isabelle is a representation of the fact that everyone seeks comfort and safety in life. When Sam’s father reads the obituaries in the newspaper, “He (doesn’t) bother to brush away his tears… each one said the same thing: Come home. Come home.”

It wasn’t a pill or a car that made her feel safe.

Isabelle, however, is the one who has the clear chance to re-start her life, and the reader will be intrigued to see what choices she makes. The beauty of Leavitt’s telling is that what the reader thinks is going to happen does not. And this, in itself, makes it a very special book.

Pictures of You concludes with a perfect ending in which everything is fully and satisfactorily resolved. There’s also a Hollywood-style postscript, a look back from 21 years later, that adds a nice cinematic touch to the account. All in all, this is an amazing novel.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. 

The reader who enjoys this book may want to read American Music: A Novel by Jane Mendelsohn, which also wrestles with the notion of angels on this earth.

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Dead Man’s Curve

Cat Coming Home by Shirley Rousseau Murphy (William Morrow; $19.99; 354 pages)

This latest Joe Grey mystery oozes with picturesque Carmel charm.   Shirley Rousseau Murphy extolls the architectural beauty of her coastal hometown in the thinly veiled story location, Molina Point.   The plot revolves around Joe, Dulcie and Kit – three cats who speak to their pet parents and sometimes unsuspecting people.   The characters in the mystery that the cats solve are a grandma named Maudie, her six-year-old grandson Benny and, of course, the evil doers.   It’s not fair to describe the villains as their identities are the key to the mystery.   Keep in mind that appearances can be very deceiving!

The story opens with a ghastly double murder that devastates a perfectly lovely family.   Benny’s dad, his new wife, her two children, Benny and his grandma are driving up a mountain road on their way to an Easter weekend of relaxation at Lake Arrowhead when a vehicle pulls up alongside them and shoots the dad and stepmom.   Chaos follows as their car tumbles off the road and everyone is tossed about.   After being rescued, Maudie becomes so distraught that she decides to leave her home in Los Angeles, bringing Benny with her to Molina Point, her childhood home.

Joe Grey and his buddies become part of the story when a series of home invasion crimes occur in Molina Point not long after Maudie and Benny arrive in town.   Added to the intrigue is the presence of an older yellow tom cat that lurks nearby and seems to have something important in mind.   Kit is fascinated by this stranger and makes it her business to find out what he’s doing in town.   Kit’s need for a focus in her life seems to be a continuing thread in these books.

The home invasions are targeted at ladies who are home alone.   They are being viciously attacked by intruders, the interiors of their homes are trashed, but not much is stolen.   One of the home invasions happens on Maddie’s block.   To make matters worse, Molina Point’s dedicated chief of police, Max Harper, is being singled out in the local newspaper for failing to bring the crime wave to a halt.   As usual, the cats are quick-witted and fleet of foot as they race around town just a paw or two behind the villains.

Whether the setting for a mystery novel is a big city or a small town, human frailties are usually at the core of the story.   This tale (or tail) is no exception.   Author Murphy does a wonderful job of developing her characters and providing insight into human nature and feline nature as well.   She refrains from rehashing the premise of her Joe Grey series which allows for more action and intrigue.

Highly recommended.  

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   This book was purchased for the reviewer.

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