(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 793 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Will’s mother, Jody, is a professional photographer; the novel’s title is eventually seen to be both apt and ironic. Human growth certainly requires love and devotion more than it does the commercial virtues of glitz and promotion. In the opening chapter of the section, titled “Mother,” the reader is told, “Only a baby—someone who truly needed her care—could have made [Jody] rise to the occasion” when Wayne leaves her. Jody does become a famous and gifted photographer who shows extraordinary insight, a sense of drama, and an unusual capacity for composition. She is a successful wedding photographer as well. It is significant, however, that the picture of Will that she carries with her is actually rubbed out and almost indecipherable; the real picture is an internal one. It is with intuitive accuracy that Jody chooses the right community for her early success, the suitable parent (not the biological one) for her son, and the agent who (though a child molester) successfully promotes her artistic career. In this novel, one good apple, Mel, the adoptive father, decontaminates the bunch.

If petty, vain, irresponsible men are unfit fathers, then Wayne has done both his wife and son the greatest service by abandoning them. Originally having met Jody by accident, Wayne is incapable of growth: “Wayne read books—not to expand his horizons . . . but to reinforce the limits of what he believed.” Wayne finds purpose neither in work nor in close, trusting relationships.

The final portion of the novel describes Wayne’s life: his relationship with his third wife, his attitude toward his male coworkers and bar chums, and his affairs with other women. He is “lucky” with other women, but he otherwise feels sorry...

(The entire section is 714 words.)