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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 793

In Picturing Will , the author presents the lives of three family members—mother, father, and son—in the late twentieth century. The first major section of the novel, “Mother,” introduces Jody, who has managed to bring her life back to normal after her husband, Wayne, walked out and left her with...

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In Picturing Will, the author presents the lives of three family members—mother, father, and son—in the late twentieth century. The first major section of the novel, “Mother,” introduces Jody, who has managed to bring her life back to normal after her husband, Wayne, walked out and left her with their infant son, Will. Jody lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, and supports herself as a photographer specializing in weddings. She is an attractive and energetic woman for whose work the demand is increasing, but she is also an artist with an eye for the out-of-the-ordinary. She is on the verge of success, an obvious candidate for the attention of an art capital such as New York. Jody’s devotion to Will is genuine. As she herself admits, he has been her salvation during the difficult days after Wayne’s departure.

Enjoying the success of her photography business, Jody considers the proposal of Mel, her lover, to marry him and move to New York City. She hesitates to jeopardize the security of her present life and her independence as a single woman, but Mel is a good man who has developed an exceptionally close relationship with Will, and a move to New York would rescue her from routine photographic work. In many ways, Mel is even more understanding of Will than is Jody, while his sympathy for her work keeps prodding her to the challenge of New York. Jody’s friend Mary Vickers, in a bad marriage herself, admires Mel and urges Jody to accept his offer. While Jody and Mary share the experiences of young motherhood, Mary poses for a photograph destined to show Jody’s genius beyond doubt, and their sons Will and Wagoner become best friends.

With the intention of persuading Jody to move to New York, Mel arranges to show her work to art-gallery proprietor D. B. Haverford, who immediately sees the appeal of her photographs and agrees to a public show in his gallery. When they meet, he is as fascinated by her as by her pictures. She sees him as a mere businessman whose name she cannot bother to remember, so he is always “Haveabud” to her and to the reader, but she perceives that he could be the key to her professional future.

The second major section of the novel, “Father,” centers on Will’s father Wayne, now living in Florida with his third wife, Corky. It was the birth of Will, after he had unsuccessfully urged an abortion, that made life with Jody intolerable for Wayne, but as Will’s father he of course retains visiting rights.

While Jody is absorbed in furthering her career in New York, Mel has willingly assumed the responsibility of driving Will to visit his father. This time, however, they are accompanied by Haveabud (whom Will is told he must tolerate because he is important for his mother’s work) and Haveabud’s young friend Spencer. Haveabud, once the promoter of Spencer’s father, is sexually exploiting the seven-year-old boy. Will’s only interest in the trip is the opportunity to visit Wagoner, now living in Florida with his mother, Jody and Mel having arranged for their reunion.

Wayne anticipates Will’s visit with apprehension and dread, while Corky, trying to persuade Wayne that they should have a child, welcomes the opportunity to show him what a good mother she will be. She greets Will enthusiastically, amuses him with shopping, and carefully prepares his clothes and meals. Wayne makes the effort to please Will by taking him and Corky to the pool of a wealthy client whose garden he maintains, but he becomes more interested in having an affair with the wealthy owner. Wayne’s most intense though brief affair during Will’s visit, however, is with Kate, a mysterious woman who suggests that they conceal their last names from each other. It is this liaison that is his downfall. The police discover a pillbox with Corky’s name that Wayne had accidentally let fall from his pocket into Kate’s car; at the same time, they find a sizable amount of heroin in the abandoned car. From a window, Will sees his father being led away in handcuffs. As soon as his father is taken, he leaves for New York at once, without achieving the promised visit with “Wag” that was so important to him.

The final, brief section of the novel, “Child,” presents Will twenty years later. The future of the family is revealed: Will has a self-absorbed, very successful mother and a devoted stepfather, Mel, Wayne having disappeared. Will himself now has a wife and son. As the novel ends, Will imagines that he is photographing himself and his son playing with the ball Mel has given them.

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