This isn’t the movies. Everything doesn’t turn out all tied up in a neat bow the way you want.
Luck never has anything to do with love, she said… Luck has everything to do with everything, he told her. Especially love.
From Carolyn Leavitt’s Pictures of You
Somewhere between heartwarming and heart wrenching lies Carolyn Leavitt’s Pictures of You.
In this book, Charlie loses his wife, April, in a car accident on a foggy night as she is leaving him for another man. Unbeknownst to April until well into her journey, Sam, their only son, a fragile asthmatic, has snuck into the car and nearly dies in the accident as well. The driver of the other vehicle, Isabelle, who is fleeing her unfaithful spouse, is free from fault but haunted by the tragedy, nonetheless. The survivors and innocent bystanders’ attempts to make sense of these events and move on with their lives is the crux of the story.
Nothing completely works out for any of the characters, which is perhaps the point of the novel. Isabelle, a trusting, warm, caring, and somewhat naive person, seems to land on her feet to a certain degree, though whether or not this will be true for Sam is left open to question. What likely will be troubling to some readers is that Charlie, who, though imperfect, is mostly admirable and noble, meanders through the later stages of his life with little or no resolution to anything.
Leavitt’s treatment of Charlie’s plight toward the end of the book essentially drives home all of the major themes of restlessness and longing that pervade throughout it. While the characters frustrate, the reader is drawn to them and prone to root for them.
Leavitt’s concise prose is provocative, dense with meaning, and packs a greater punch than those whose excessive detail loses itself in translation. However, there are a few things that are problematic. As a child, Sam is given independence to roam and make decisions more common to someone in their early teens, and events occasionally jump from one to the next without adequate explanation. All of a sudden another character appears, or two characters meet, or a major time shift occurs, and the reader – without enough to go on – must suspend belief or grapple with the inconclusive “what-for’s” and “why’s” of the situation. Perhaps most troubling is Leavitt’s over-reliance on constructing the characters’ major thoughts or points she wants the reader to ponder in the form of questions. The writing itself is mostly powerful, which could lead one to deem this technique unnecessary, yet it is instead common.
Leavitt trickles the story out initially and creates strong scenes, engaging passages, and well-constructed dialogue, moving the reader to a satisfying inconclusive conclusion. She does an admirable job of exploring the complexity of human relationships, and none of the minor issues noted above interfere with the reader’s enjoyment of this rich tale.
This “second look” preview-review was written by Dave Moyer, author of the novel Life and Life Only. (A review copy was provided by the publisher.) Pictures of You: A Novel will be released by Algonquin Books on January 25, 2011.
“Magically written, heartbreakingly honest…” Jodi Picoult