Pictures of You is a book about two women who are trying to escape their marriages (for entirely different reasons). At the start of the book, readers are inside the head of Isabelle, who has just left her husband.
Isabelle is a photographer, who had been working at one of those studios where parents bring their babies to have a professional portrait taken. This, by itself, is somewhat heartbreaking, because Isabelle cannot have children (but desperately wants one). Part of the reason why she has left her husband has something to do with this issue.
She is driving down a foggy road, very upset, and thinking about when she and her husband first got to know each other. Visibility is almost zero. She doesn’t see the car that is parked lengthwise across the road ahead of her until she crashes into it.
Later, as she is going through the healing process, she learns more about the car accident she was involved in. A woman and her son were in the car. The woman, named April, had taken her son, Sam, out of school that fateful day, and was driving to a location that only she was aware of. April died when the crash happened, but Sam survived, unharmed.
Readers later discover where April was going. She was leaving her husband, but her reasons for doing so were completely different from the reasons why Isabelle was leaving hers. Those reasons were something that April had been keeping a secret before she died.
This is one of those stories that indirectly asks readers some uncomfortable questions. How well do you really know the person that you love? Would you be able to forgive the person that you love after that person has done something absolutely unforgivable? Should you?
There are several chapters in this book that take place from the viewpoint of April’s husband Charlie, who is grieving the loss of his wife, while still trying to be a good parent to his son (who has asthma). Leavitt really captured the way the world becomes so draining, and bewildering, for many people after a loved one has passed away. You can almost physically feel what Charlie is going through.
Isabelle becomes almost obsessed with trying to find out more about the family of the woman she unintentionally killed. It feels like she wants to make sure that they are “okay”, perhaps to reduce her intense feelings of guilt over what she has done. Eventually, she starts stalking them.
As you may have guessed these three characters, Isabelle, Charlie, and Sam, do wind up meeting each other. Their lives came together the instant the car crash happened, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before they ended up connecting with each other.
Isabelle begins bonding with Sam over photography, which she is trying to teach him about. Isabelle and Charlie both have a vast emptiness inside themselves that aches to be filled, and whole, once again. Of course, they meet. Of course, they find a strong connection with each other. All three are in a great deal of pain that was caused by the exact same incident. It is a strange thing to have in common.
I won’t say how the book ends, except to say that the ending isn’t what you might assume it would be. This isn’t the type of story that includes a simple “happily ever after” ending, painted in bright, shiny colors. That is not to say that the ending was entirely sad, only that it was complex, just like life can often be. I found this book, and the characters in it, to be completely compelling.