four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
51-Mar-Apr-2011
user_rating: 
0

A-Pictures of YouNovelist and journalist Caroline Leavitt is a book critic for the Boston Globe. Pictures of You is her ninth novel. Reviewed: Girls in Trouble (3 of 5 Stars May/June 2004).

The Story: When Isabelle, 36, leaves her childless, loveless marriage to a philandering husband and her dead-end job on Cape Cod, she hopes to start life anew. But as she veers off the road looking for gas, the fog obscures a stopped car--and the woman standing in front of it. The head-on collision, which kills April Nash, leaves Isabelle to deal with the consequences, including April's husband and her young, asthmatic son, who had stowed away in his mother's back seat and survived. As Isabelle comes to terms with her feelings of guilt, she soon becomes enmeshed in April's family as they all try to understand April's own reasons for being on that dark highway that fateful day.
Algonquin Books. 335 pages. $13.95. ISBN: 9781565126312

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Her writing is unfussy and direct, with vivid descriptions and passages of striking insight and wrenching, visceral power, especially in the accident's immediate aftermath. ... Leavitt beautifully paces the book's intertwining stories, meticulously unfurling bits of the back story, letting us put together the pieces just as the main characters do." Karen Campbell

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Leavitt's literary touch is so light, her hand so translucent on the page, that only when the mystery [of where April was going] is finally solved does the reader realize how taut she's kept the tension all along. ... At first glance, its plot points and character developments might seem predictable--but the author's sure, steady hand at the wheel makes the reading experience so engaging, its characters so irresistible, that Pictures of You is a novel I suspect I'll return to again and again." Meredith Maran

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"The lovable, asthmatic little boy at the center of the action is the novel's absolute standout. ... As in any Leavitt novel, matters are rarely as they appear to the casual bystander, and the author exhibits the talent for nuance in human relationships so mercifully devoid of romanticism they are reminiscent of early-career Alice Munro." Andrea Hoag

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The pages here are full of professionals who don't do their jobs, classmates who behave like monsters, and even Charlie, who's so afraid to do anything about his son that he may ruin Sam's life. ... This is a novel that invites us to look at our own imperfections, not the dramatic crimes, but the niggling little sins of omission that so often render our lives tragically undernourished and small." Carolyn See

Critical Summary

The Boston Globe describes Pictures of You "as part literary mystery, part domestic drama, and part psychological examination," and, indeed, the novel kept most critics on their toes the entire time. A novel of loss, redemption, forgiveness, and self-discovery, the intertwining stories grapple not only with the tragedy but also with the mystery of April's hasty departure from her family. Reviewers commented that what could have been a maudlin, predictable storyline instead becomes fresh with Leavitt's direct, unsentimental writing; her you-are-here details; and her fully convincing characters. Readers who enjoy both fine storytelling and writing will be sure to savor this novel.