When Isabelle decides to leave her unfaithful husband, she packs her belongings into her car and heads for New York, however things take a tragic turn when she crashes into a stationery car in the middle of a foggy road. The crash claims the life of April Nash, a young wife and mother, but the accident raises more questions than answers as no one seems to know why April had stopped in the middle of the road and where she was going. The only witness to the crash is April’s son, Sam, who was thankfully out of the car and hiding in the woods nearby.
As Isabelle desperately tries to come to terms with April’s death, she finds herself drawn to Sam and his father, Charlie, often watching them from afar to make sure they are coping with April’s loss. Inevitably, Sam and Isabelle’s paths cross once more but as the boy because increasingly fixated on the woman who had a hand in his mother’s death, Charlie becomes increasingly concerned. Charlie tries to forbid Sam from seeing Isabelle but watching his son respond so positively to someone for the first time in months makes him change his mind. As Sam spends more time with Isabelle, Charlie finds himself growing attached to the beautiful young photographer and things start to become even more complex as they fall in love.
I found Pictures of You to be a rather patchy affair as the good elements were spoiled by the mediocre moments. For me, the best aspect was how the author dealt with the grief felt by the characters, particularly young Sam who is so traumatised by his mother’s death, he clings to the notion Isabelle is an angel who will help him talk to April if he keeps to the rules. While Sam is reading a lot about angels, the author adds a lot of angelic symbolism which not only enhances Sam’s beliefs but makes the reader wonder if some events are purely coincidental or if some higher power is really guiding these people together.
The relationship which evolves between Sam and Isabelle is an unlikely one but they both find so much comfort from being together, it is very healing in nature. Unfortunately, the author pushes things too far by adding a romantic element into the mix between Isabelle and Sam’s father, Charlie, which is never convincing. As Charlie and Isabelle become intimate, the author chooses to whisk the reader through several months by which time the couple are declaring they are in love with each other. Telling us they are in love won’t make us believe it and I was never emotionally invested in them as a couple. Considering how the relationship evolves by the end of the novel, it all seems entirely pointless anyway.
The mystery surrounding why April was on the road that night is not that hard to work out and Sam reveals most of it to the reader himself, although Charlie is kept ignorant of the truth until much later. Either way, it’s pretty much irrelevant for much of the plot as Isabelle and Charlie’s decision to conceal their relationship from Sam becomes the primary focus until the inevitable dramatic reveal. As Sam reacts badly to discovering Isabelle isn’t an angel after all, his grief comes crashing down around him and has severe implications on his health as he battles chronic asthma. After this point, the story just seems to peter out as Isabelle leaves for New York and Charlie devotes himself to caring for his son.
The final few chapters are so unstructured, I got the impression Leavitt wasn’t sure how to wrap things up and even her central characters seemed to fade into the background. The epilogue throws us twenty years into the future when an adult Sam is about to meet Isabelle once more and questions why she abandoned him at a time when he needed her the most but it all falls a little flat because her reasoning is so weak. The author also had an extremely annoying habit of introducing things, presumably to move the plot forward, only to leave them dangling again when she had no more use for them.