All of the major characters in Jodi Picoult’s Picture Perfect survived childhood shizza. Alexander Riveaux from New Orleans becomes blockbuster, heart throb actor Alex Rivers, who won several Oscars for his film about a man who beat his wife before tanking his career:
He left his childhood in a puddle on a back lot at Paramount and re-created himself to fit the mythic proportions drawn by the press. The truth was, he became a workaholic. . .because he did not like himself as much as the characters he brought to life. . .he never would have left Louisiana in the first place if he hadn’t believed that he’d killed his own father. . .
It had been one of those weeks in New Orleans when the humidity grabbed you by the balls and blew its fetid breath into your lungs. Andrew Riveaux [his deadbeat, drunk father] had been gambling for three consecutive days. . .
While father and son duked it out, Alex’s mother was out cold in a “Valium haze.” On location in Tanzania, Alex married Dr. Cassandra Barrett, a UCLA anthropologist who had been lured from her dig at Olduvai Gorge to become a technical advisor on Alex’s movie. Their childhoods mirrored each other:
. . .my parents owned a bakery. . .I also helped pick my mother up off the floor every time she passed out. . .A southern belle to the last, but a drunk. . .
Cassie had spent more time as a child taking care of her parents than they had spent taking care of her. . .her husband. . .was the first person who made her feel special. . .
Cassie became an anthropologist in tribute to her childhood best friend Connor Murtaugh, who wanted to become a veterinarian. They dug up the bones of a neighbor’s dog and kissed shortly before Connor’s father used a 12-gauge shotgun to commit a brutal double-murder-suicide. Connor’s ghost has visited Cassie for seventeen years:
He shows up whenever things are going wrong. . .
Several nights before the wedding I dreamed that Connor met me on the Serengeti at dusk and told me I was making the biggest mistake of my life. . . “you’re so busy seeing him as a little wounded bird whose broken wing you can fix. . .you collect other people’s problems the way some people collect rare coins.”
Cassie’s best friend is hand model Ophelia Fox, who had been her roommate at UCLA:
Christmas Eve we got drunk on a bottle of Glenfiddich. . .She spoke of the stepfather who had been feeling her up since she was twelve. . .Ophelia began to remake herself. . .I understood what she was trying so hard to disguise. . .
Cassie is rescued and protected from Alex’s abuse by William Flying Horse, a Native American LAPD cop:
Will’s first memory involved bailing his father out from jail. . .
Will’s parents were killed in a car accident [when he was nine] by some crazy drunk wasicun salesman. . .
A skeleton could tell you nothing, but
a survivor could show you her life.
– Jodi Picoult
Although the plot of the book needs work, I loved the author’s ability to concisely and vividly capture the experience of abuse:
When I was a kid, I’d climb the cottonwoods on the water’s edge and listen to the bullfrogs, thinking it was the devil belching up whiskey.
. . .I loved Alex so much that it was easier to let him hurt me than to watch him hurt himself. . .I was not afraid of Alex because I understood him. . .
Rebuffed by his father’s criticism of what he’s grown up to be, he finally explodes. . .he’d never have had to run halfway around the world to find his place [as a photojournalist] if he’d been accepted in his own home. . .the reason his father hurt him as a child was because it was easier for him to let his son view him as a strict, demanding tyrant, instead of seeing him for what he really was ~ a farmer who’d never made anything of himself. Even being cast as a bastard was better, in his mind, than being seen as a failure. . .
“One last question” Barbara [Walters] said. . .Tell us what America doesn’t know about Alex Rivers. . .Well, Barbara, I could say, for one thing, he hits me. And his father was terribly abusive. And he’s going to have a baby, but he doesn’t even know that yet because I’m too afraid of his reaction to tell him the truth. . .I said, “Nothing you would ever believe.”
I used to think my suicide note would have read, You won.
Picture Perfect is on my recommended list because it credibly conveys how wounded children are drawn to each other as they struggle as adults to thrive and find joy. Ms. Picoult deftly weaves into the plot the myriad of addictions common to dysfunctional families.
However, I was annoyed by the distractions presented by Will’s character. Ms. Picoult, who was educated at Princeton and Harvard, has the brilliance and literary chops to develop a plot with more self-sufficient female characters fully capable of rescuing themselves.