April Nash is leaving her marriage. Leaving her husband and young son behind, traveling on a foggy road towards another life. Unbeknownst to her, her son, Sam, is asleep under a blanket in the back seat.
The car was moving. Sam heard the rivery sound of the road under him, and he sat up, rubbing his eyes, pulling the blanket from him. Cars were zipping past in a blur of color. And there was his mother in front, singing along to some song on the radio. “You are my spec-i-al someone,” she sang, and because Sam thought she meant him, he grinned. Her voice sounded bright, like it was full of bells. The air seemed full of happiness. With one hand, she picked up the cell phone and dialed, listened, and then she put the phone away.
His neck hurt, his legs hurt, and he was now deeply thirsty, so sluggish with sleep that he didn’t feel like saying boo anymore or playing any game. “Mom?” he said, and he saw her start, felt her slamming on the brakes, pulling over to the side of the road. She jumped out of the car, tugged open his door, and made him get out, too. Her face was white.
She grabbed him by his shoulders, hard. “What are you doing here?” she demanded. “How did you get in the car? Do you know how dangerous this is? How stupid?”
Soon, Sam and April are overcome by a thick, soupy fog, and Sam, who suffers from severe asthma, has an attack. April pulls over again, gets her car somehow turned the wrong way in the middle of the freeway, and waits for help. You can see where this is going, right?
Isabelle Stein is also leaving her marriage, driving along that same stretch of highway, running from the husband who has gotten his girlfriend pregnant. Isabelle feels this betrayal deeply, not only for the infidelity, which would certainly be enough, but because she cannot have children of her own, a loss that haunts and hurts her deeply. That her husband would prefer to have a child with another woman rather than adopt one with her is far more than she can bear. So she is on that same stretch of highway, souped in by fog, slightly distracted by a hornet in her car, when she slams into April and April’s car, killing April and wounding herself and Sam.
What follows is the story of Isabelle, Sam, and Charlie, Sam’s father. Isabelle is haunted by grief and guilt, though the accident was in no way her fault. She finds herself drawn to Sam and Charlie, wanting to know if Sam is OK, wanting to know a bit more about them. Secretly wishing he were hers. Sam is equally drawn to Isabelle. In the moments following the accident, he saw Isabelle, shrouded in fog, and confuses her with an angel. Thinking that she can somehow connect him again with his dead mother, he seeks her out. Then there’s Charlie, who wants nothing more than to protect his son. But almost as much as he wants this, he wants to know why April was leaving him. He believed, deeply and truly, that they were happily married. He is hurt, lonely, and confused.
Pictures of You could easily have fallen into a predictable storyline. Indeed, I saw her compared to Jodi Picoult and I worried, as my experience with My Sister’s Keeper was harrowing enough. But Caroline Leavitt didn’t go for the easy answer, and her characters seemed real, flawed, and understandable, especially in the very real confusion brought about by their grief. Yes, I sometimes wanted to shake them. But that’s real life sometimes.