PICTURES OF YOU by Caroline Leavitt

Leavitt The February EDIWTB book club pick was Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt. Pictures of You explores how one fatal car accident changes the lives of two women escaping from their lives on Cape Cod. April, married to Charlie and mother to Sam, mysteriously parks her car going the wrong way on a Connecticut road in deep fog. Isabelle, wife to Luke, finds herself driving down that same road on the same foggy day, and slams into April's car. The sad aftermath of that accident has ramifications for Isabelle, Charlie and Sam, for the rest of their lives, which Leavitt explores sensitively and poignantly.

Leavitt is a master storyteller. I am a slooow reader, but I had a hard time putting this book down and read it much more quickly than I usually get through 300+ plus page books. There were key elements in the story which she didn't reveal until very late in the book – elements which significantly affected my feelings about one of the characters – and I loved that plot twist. I found Pictures of You to be unpredictable – it surprised me at several turns and made me want to keep reading.

I liked Leavitt's depiction of the different kinds of love we can experience – love for a child, love for a longterm spouse, love fueled by passion or grief, forbidden love, and platonic love. I think she did a nice job of differentiating the many relationships in the book and exploring their limits and intensity.

Some reviews have mentioned that there are supernatural elements to the story. I didn't see it that way. In fact, I liked that it was grounded in realism – the messy, imperfect realism that makes our lives go in directions we don't always choose. While Sam wants desperately to believe in angels when he is processing his mother's death, I don't think Leavitt meant to suggest that April was truly present, in any form. I have a very low tolerance level for fantasy or otherworldly plot points, and I wasn't bothered at all by Leavitt's story in that respect.

However, I did find some of the coincidences to be a too convenient. No one remarked on how unlikely it was that two women from the same small Cape Cod town would collide on a remote Connecticut street hours away. I had a hard time with Isabelle happening across a flyer for a photography course in New York City that was posted in her small-town bookstore. (Um, really?) And of course, Isabelle ends up falling for the guy who owns the restaurant she just happens to walk by on her way home from a New Year's Eve party. I know that Leavitt could have found away to construct this story without these contrivances, and it would have made for a more powerful book for me.

That said, I did truly enjoy reading Pictures of You. It kept me turning those pages and eagerly absorbing the storyline and Leavitt's memorable characters.

Thank you to Algonquin for supplying the books for the EDIWTB book club.

So, EDIWTB readers - what did you think?

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27 Comments

  • Darby Lohrding
    February 25, 2011 - 2:26 am | Permalink

    Hi Gayle,
    I got a late start on this read so I’m not going to read to many of the comments, for I don’t want to accidentally read something regarding the plot. Yet like you, I have found this book hard to put down and am so glad you chose “Pictures of You” for your February read! I have read many reviews on this book and I have to agree with them, for they all commonly stated that it was a great read!
    I’ll comment again later once I have finised, I just wanted to say THANKS!
    Darby

  • Tiffany D.
    February 25, 2011 - 4:39 am | Permalink

    First, I want to say thank you so much for including me in the reading because I really wanted to read this book!
    I liked this book, but I also found some things too convenient (everything that you mentioned) and had a few other issues. I was worried when the angel talk started because I wasn’t expecting the supernatural to play a part in the book. I am very glad it did not go that way, but I found it odd that once Sam realized that Isabelle wasn’t an angel, nobody talked to him about how he felt knowing that she killed his mother. I thought that would have been a big issue for Same, having to come to terms with how much he cared about Isabelle yet knowing she was the one who killed his mother. I thought it was odd that it was never discussed.
    I also didn’t like that nothing happened with Teddy, who was clearly being abused. He was just sort of a filler and once he was no longer needed he was just tossed aside and didn’t get a resolution. Same with Charlie. It was said at the end that he had a girlfriend, but I got the sense that he was still miserable after those twenty years and never really moved on. The same with Charlie’s parents. Why didn’t anything come of his father and his affair? It was hinted towards but that was all.
    That being said, I still liked this book. I was surprised at how it ended. I was expecting a “happily ever after” ending where they become a family, and I was surprised that that wasn’t the case. This will be a book to stay with me for a while after reading it.

  • Marcia
    February 25, 2011 - 8:13 am | Permalink

    Pictures of You IS a beautiful novel……..I LOVED IT !
    Isabelle is so loving and she really comes to love Sam. The car accident
    in the beginning is so terrible and all the characters are caught up in what happens.
    “I killed a woman. It was an accident. I love the victims. It was an accident.”
    I loved how Isabelle shares her love of photography with Sam and how it brings them
    closer. I like how the photography images are rich in the book. When Isabelle was leaving to go to New York, “She’d remember all that she was leaving behind, as
    indelible as if she had photographed it.” The novel is so beautifully written.
    What a shock to learn that April had an affair with unlikely Bill and Charlie
    learns that April was leaving him. And I kind of wanted it to work out for Isabelle
    and Charlie but then Frank turns out to be wonderful and Isabelle (another shock)
    is pregnant! At the end of the story, I closed the book and felt………this was
    a really good story! Thank you for sharing this wonderful story with us. marcia

  • February 25, 2011 - 9:37 am | Permalink

    I thoroughly enjoyed this one in part because there were so many layers to the novel: the portraits of grief, Isabelle’s delayed growth into independent womanhood, and the mystery surrounding April’s life. I also appreciated that the author did not wrap things up too neatly.

  • Susan B
    February 25, 2011 - 10:22 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Gayle, for organizing another book club. I was happy to get a chance to read this book so soon after its release.
    I thought Pictures of You was an engrossing read. I enjoy books that have shifting points of view. I like that this technique allowed the author to reveal elements of the story to us that other characters in the novel didn’t know. I was a bit leery when the angel storyline began, but ultimately it didn’t bother me because rather than being supernatural or spiritual it was an interesting way to show how Sam was processing the loss of his mother and how confusing his life had become.
    I enjoyed Sam’s storyline the most. I thought he was a well-drawn character and I’m glad we got to see him as an adult and that he was able to get some sort of closure at the end of the novel. I enjoyed the relationship he had with Isabelle very much – it had such unusual origins and yet it was entirely believable.
    I did have a problem with the surprise twist. I don’t mind a surprise if you can look back and see that it was hinted at in some way but instead it seemed to come out of nowhere. Perhaps we were supposed to be as shocked as Charlie but it seemed like a bit of foul play for a book that had let us in on “secrets” that other characters didn’t know.
    Another minor thing: I was very distracted in my reading after Sam dropped the tortoise and thought he’d killed it. There was no follow-up and I really wanted to know about the tortoise! I was glad this was picked up again late in the book but it did frustrate me for a while.

  • Debra Gendel
    February 25, 2011 - 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Caroline Leavitt’s humanity as a writer is everywhere in this wonderful book.
    I was moved by the way the she drew the character of Sam, the young boy, with such obvious affection and empathy. The scenes between Isabelle and Sam are so tender they made me weep. Their love, so viscerally rendered, is at the core of this endearing tale.
    And has there ever been a funnier seduction scene than the turtle three-way? Just acted it out for my husband. Too funny!!

  • February 25, 2011 - 12:04 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read this one, but the comment you made about realism caught my eye. I have a hard time believing the supernatural elements of some books. I much prefer a realist approach.
    I just finished The Other Life and I had a hard time accepting the premise, although it was very readable.

  • Miriam
    February 25, 2011 - 12:51 pm | Permalink

    This book was such a page turner! I loved it and the plot was so engrossing that you could not put it down.
    First off- I loved the cover. Photography and satisfying work does give one wings and it helped give Isabelle some badly needed self esteem and helped Sam heal. The way those pictures were described was wonderful.
    These were all sympathetic characters but flawed also. The mystery of why April was on that fog shrouded road kept the reader interested in finding out why.
    The writing was so beautiful. I was troubled with Isabelle not contacting Sam when she left although I understood why she did not- still I wanted her to help him. I thought the ending true to the characters and I liked that it wasn’t changed to how I might have liked it to come out.
    I too was troubled about the “dead turtle” part- Sam thinks he has killed the turtle and we don’t find out until the end that the turtle is fine- what was up with that?
    Thank you so much for choosig this wonderful read and I will be talking about it to other readers. Great read.

  • February 25, 2011 - 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Loved the book – you can see my review here: http://www.stephanieswrittenword.com/?p=2951

  • Sarah
    February 25, 2011 - 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I agree with a lot that has already been said, although I didn’t think the book was as good as most of the other posters. To me, the book was all plot. I wasn’t taken with the writing — I found there to be some sloppiness at times — and like many have said, there were too many coincidences/implausible events to make the book realistic. I was so programmed toward expecting the unbelievable, that I assumed that Isabelle and Charlie would randomly run into each other, at some point, on the streets of NYC. This book wasn’t tight enough nor subtle enough to win me over. That said, it is definitely a page turner, and I did cared about all of the characters.
    Gayle — Thanks for organizing yet another great book club event!

  • February 25, 2011 - 2:57 pm | Permalink

    I liked this book a lot, but have to admit that I struggled with the amount of freedom Sam was given to wander around town right after his mom had been killed in an accident.

  • Kelly Currie
    February 25, 2011 - 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I did not love this book. Having said that, however, I will admit that I could not put it down until I found it what April and Sam were doing on that stretch of road! Unlike other readers, I liked the angel idea, which seemed like a perfect coping mechanism for Sam. In fact, when he found out Isabelle wasn’t an angel after all, I was hoping the author would stretch that storyline out a bit more, demonstrating how Sam was struggling to cope with such a tragedy. I was impatient with Isabelle and Charlie, and their back-and-forth feelings about and actions toward each other. I also was disturbed by the part about the tortoise. That would have been a perfect opportunity to explore Sam’s understanding of life and death, but it was just dropped (no pun intended!). I also could not quite get past the implausibility of April and Isabelle meeting on the same road so far from their home. I kept going back and rereading the first part of the book because I couldn’t believe they were from the same small town. All in all, I think the author has good ideas, but perhaps the book could have been edited a little more tightly. I would not hesitate to pick up another book by Caroline Leavitt. Thanks, Gayle, for the opportunity to read and share!

  • Susan
    February 25, 2011 - 10:36 pm | Permalink

    I also did not love this book , although I did find it an easy and quick read. I was very bothered by the fact that Charlie was so upset about Isabelle leaving yet he wasn’t ready to accept her in his life – I thought it was asking way too much of someone. I also found it too coincidental that these two women were not only from the same town, but then the husband and son fall for the survivor of the accident. I did like Sam’s character and I was glad we got to see him as an adult. I was also glad that April’s “disappearance” was finally explained, yet found it a little troubling that it took Bill so long to find out what happened to April.

  • February 25, 2011 - 11:30 pm | Permalink

    I was disappointed. It had a good beginning and I found her writing easy to read and I finished the book in 2 days. However, I thought not much happened! You could summary the plot in a few sentences. Felt indifferent about the characters except Sam- I thought it was kinda sweet that he thought Isabelle was an Angela, but felt bad for him when he found out she wasn’t and so he couldn’t talk to his mum anymore.
    I don’t mind that it didn’t have a traditional happy ending (in fact, I preferred it). Maybe because I typically read murder/mystery/thriller novels with lots of turns and twist, the pace was a bit slow for me and the twist didn’t make me go wow or aha.
    Full review coming this weekend. Thanks for the opportunity to review this book – I guess I just need to stay with plot driven rather than character driven novels.

  • Amy W.
    February 26, 2011 - 12:55 am | Permalink

    I really enjoyed this book and it was a great and quick read. I love a book that sucks me in and keeps me hooked, with more being revealed as the book continues. Being as sappy as I am, I was disappointed that the book didn’t tie the ending up in a neat little bow for me with a new ready-made family. That aside, I really liked it and look forward to reading other titles from Caroline Leavitt.

  • Michelle B
    February 26, 2011 - 3:04 pm | Permalink

    First of all, thanks Gayle for arranging this book club.
    I mostly enjoyed this book. I agree with other’s thoughts on the Teddy abuse and lack of follow up, the incident of Nelson the turtle and the lack of support for Teddy when his mother died.
    What bothered me most was the abrupt fast forward in time in the book. It seemed to me that once Isabelle went to New York, the author had ‘x’ number of pages to wrap up the story.

  • Carol
    February 26, 2011 - 5:15 pm | Permalink

    The good thing about book clubs–online or otherwise–is to hear/read what might have been niggling in the back of my mind but that I hadn’t put into words. I appreciated Tiffany D’s comments about what Leavitt left unfinished: explanation of Angela’s death to Sam, Teddy’s abuse and Charlie’s parents. I guess in 300 pages an author is bound to leave some holes. And according to the interview with Leavitt, she likes to leave the finale open ended, so maybe she also likes to leave other parts of the plot and characters to our imagination on how they played out.
    I enjoyed the book and will definitely pick up other books by Leavitt, but I had a few complaints. The major one was I wish Leavitt had better explained/demonstrated why April was such an obsessive, impractical mother, whether overseeing Sam’s health or yanking him out of class. And the minor ones: an organ donor is kept alive until the operation. So April would have been on a bed, not a table. And rarely would a resident draw blood. These aren’t important details, but whenever I find things that I know aren’t accurate, I wonder where else the writer (and/or editor) might have gone astray.
    Overall, though, an enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing this with us, Gayle

  • March 1, 2011 - 7:13 am | Permalink

    Well, it must be a sign that Leavitt is such a good writer that these coincidences didn’t even occur to me or bother me. Weird, right?!?! Usually this is something that trips me up, that I can’t get past. In Pictures I ignored them.
    I had a feeling about the twist early on. That relationship seemed too weird, and he seemed to only know her on the surface-to almost be in love with the idea of her to really know her. That seemed real to me as well.
    The one thing that I loved the most about this book were the so-called supernatural elements. I loved that Sam was looking for angels, and I loved that once he realized how the world worked-scary and all-he could breathe easier. Beautiful!!
    Thanks so much allowing me to be a part of this book club!

  • Susan W
    March 1, 2011 - 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I thought I posted the other night, but I don’t see it here, so here it is again . . .
    Even though the book was somewhat of a page-turner and a quick read, I was not a big fan of it. I absolutely hated the characters. I found them all to be extremely selfish, from Angela right down to Sam. Everyone cared about no one but themselves.

  • March 2, 2011 - 10:54 am | Permalink

    I read this book after someone suggested it on the Jan MMBC call and enjoyed it. I’m not sure what I was expecting but was told it read like a Picoult novel… so expected much more detail.
    I enjoyed the pace and had the same struggles you did, at times I felt ‘this would never happen’ but had to remind myself it’s fiction. I do like reading books that could really happen (not sure why).
    Just a coincidence that you read this one this month and I have the chance to comment. Bonus for me!
    Have a great week.

  • March 2, 2011 - 12:33 pm | Permalink

    I will preface this by saying that I’m only halfway through the book. I was into it in the beginning but then at this point I think its gotten a little silly almost. Like you said so contrived, or like I was missing some big parts of the story to explain how these coincidences made sense, you know.
    That said, I seem to have lost my book in the last day or so, and to be honest I don’t really care. Maybe if I find it I’ll finish it up. Maybe not. (Which means something coming from someone who has abandoned maybe 2 or 3 books tops ever!)

  • Tiffany D.
    March 3, 2011 - 9:12 am | Permalink

    One more thing that I forgot to mention in my previous post was the relationship between Isabelle and Charlie. He was really mean to her off and on, expecting her to just be there and wait around for him. It was like he wanted her there when he thought it was convenient but then would push her away and tell her he needed time. Then when she decideds to move to New York he gets so angry about it even though she had been trying to work things out with him and he kept telling her to back off. So then she does, and he is unhappy. This really drove me crazy!

  • Sharon Walling (sharon54220)
    March 7, 2011 - 4:34 pm | Permalink

    I’m am sorry that I haven’t posted sooner. I have been working alot. Thanks Gayle for another great Book Club read.
    I have to say that I totally loved this book. This was they type of book for me that once I stated it I couldn’t put it down.
    I agree with Kathy (Bermudaonion) about how Sam was allowed to roam around on his own, so soon after his Mom was killed. Same had a lot to deal with at souch a young age.
    Looking forward to future book club reads.
    Thanks again.

  • March 22, 2011 - 11:19 pm | Permalink

    Gayle, I am sorry I had some personal things and could not get to the book club cyber meet up. I am just reading now. I am enjoying reading it. I will post my thoughts soon. I will say I am enjoying reading this so far.

  • sheila
    April 1, 2011 - 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Just finished this book. I didnt even realize it was the book club book, I just saw it in a bookstore and thought I would try it out. Strolling through some old posts, I found this and really enjoyed reading other’s comments. I concur with many of them… while I read it very quickly (it is a true beach read, which it appropriate since I am on the beach right now!) but am left not really sure how much I liked it. I found the relationships somewhat implausible and dont think that Charlie would ever have gotten together with Isabelle regardless of anything…even though it was an accident, he would have to look at her and always think “that is the woman who killed my wife!” And on another note… I also was obsessing about the tortoise! too funny!

  • April 4, 2011 - 8:05 pm | Permalink

    This was a fast read. The story was a page turner, you wanted to know what was going to happen next.
    Like you, there were a few things that were far fetched.
    I did not like that the Charlie hooked up with Isabelle. I don’t think I could ever have a relationship with someone that cause the untimely death of my spouse.
    Then April, taking Sam out of school constantly going to the park, or a bite to eat. Because she doesn’t have anyone else to have fun with.
    I did not like the ending of the book, fast forward 30 years, when Sam in now a doctor. He is still weeping about his lost years with her. I don’t think any normal man at that age would act that way.
    I liked how the author kept the intrigue going. Why April was out on the foggy road. We did not find that out till almost the end of the book. I enjoyed that set up. Not knowing till almost the end what really happened.
    Thanks for the enjoyable read, until next time…
    One thing I want to ask if anyone can answer the question, or maybe I missed it why did April get out of the car?

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