Picturing Will Essay - Critical Essays

Ann Beattie


Beattie has often been labeled as a chronicler of her generation, a label with which she does not agree. She has also written often about characters who came of age in the 1960’s and 1970’s, characters who lack permanent emotional ties and commitments while feeling a vague malaise and incomprehension at the direction that their lives have taken. While Wayne does fall into this category of characterization, and while Picturing Will, like Beattie’s other works, does use episodic style and short, intensified moments that are captured and framed like photographs, this novel deals fully with the emotional complexity of adult relationships and the parent/child bond.

This novel haunts the reader as Beattie’s use of telling details escalates. During part 1, “Mother,” a reader might first believe that Picturing Will is another “woman’s” story about single parenting; however, there are too many unanswered questions about Jody. She married Wayne without even knowing that he had been married once before, and her habit of sending Wayne manila envelopes stuffed with grocery receipts, teachers’ notes, parking tickets, and junk mail is disquieting. Jody admits that she is withholding part of herself from Mel, and this detachment is part of her personality and part of her profession. She is, after all, an artist, with all the difficulties that her personal quest and vision necessitate. She views aspects of life in terms of events being wide-angle shots or close-ups. Will is her buffer from the world as she recovers from Wayne’s abandonment, but a camera also offers protection from the inconstancy and indeterminacy of life.

Although Jody could be accused of not being a “good” mother according...

(The entire section is 712 words.)