Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt: book review

Pictures of You, by Caroline Leavitt. Publisher: Algonquin Books (January 25, 2011). Paperback. 336 pg.

Think I fell in love with Pictures of You and author Caroline Leavitt’s writing with this line early on in the novel: Now she has a little money, a profession, and a dirt-cheap illegal sublet in New York City that’s available for as long as she wants it, courtesy of her friend Michelle. She yearns for cities where people don’t make you feel there is something wrong with you because you live there year ‘round.

What is love? How does one define love? Turns out there are a multitude of ways to love another. Can you truly love more than one person, romantically, in a lifetime? Pictures of You isn’t a quaint, predictable love story about loss and redemption, it’s much more than that. The compelling novel exposes the insecurities, nuances and rewards of companionship, romantic love and parental love.

In the minds of two Cape Cod women, their relationships were broken and unsatisfying and both women secretly planned to leave. When they collide on the road hours away from their hometown, long kept secrets emerge. Caroline Leavitt probes into the fractured lives of two families after a fatal accident. Isabelle, a budding photographer, must deal with survivor’s guilt as well as figuring out a way to keep moving toward the dream she’d planned. Her life becomes that much more complicated when she becomes involved with the widower and his son.

Leavitt writes compassionately and with honest insight. Life consists in shades of gray. Never black and while. Pictures of You examines morality, love and reinvention. Leavitt does not shy away from difficult, complex subject matter. Page after page illustrates long-kept secrets, unreachable dreams, monotony of the daily grind and the actuality of maintaining one’s individuality while being part of a couple. While outside looking in a couple’s marriage or relationship may look ideal, there can be many factors that make one or both partners resent each other or stay in a relationship because there are few other options. I met someone recently who stayed in a “miserable” twenty-year marriage for his son. Many novels focus on relationships and how to make the topic new and refreshing remains the challenge to many authors. Leavitt creates characters who unfold page by page through both likable and unlikable qualities. By the end, the reader develops greater empathy and has become thoroughly engrossed in this fascinating character study of the effects of grief and deception.

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