Picturing Will

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

PICTURING WILL is a story about parenthood, at the center of which is Will, a five-year-old boy who often seems more mature than his multiple parental influences. Will’s mother, Jody, is a wedding photographer with latent artistic aspirations. She was abandoned years earlier by her husband Wayne (Will’s father), and has since developed an independent, survivor attitude. She is courted by Mel, who lives in New York City, where he works in an art gallery. The first part of the story revolves around the daily lives of Jody and Will, creating a portrait of security that is not, however, without tension--the result of Jody’s indecision about her art. Conflict arises when Will makes his annual trip to Florida to see his father, Wayne, and Wayne’s new wife, Corky. There, a quite different parental picture is painted. Wayne’s world is insecure and unstable. Wayne will never be responsible--he is useless as a parent, if not damaging, and ultimately disappears permanently. While Will is in Florida, Mel secures for Jody a “real” photography show in his gallery, and it is intimated that Will will soon have to leave his stable, quiet home to live in New York City as the son of a soon-to-be successful artist and stepson of Mel.

It is Mel who has been the catalyst for these events, Mel who has remained behind the scenes, and Mel who is prepared to take on all the responsibilities of parenthood for the sake of both Will and Jody. The character of Mel is the mainstay of the book, the thread that holds it together both structurally and narratively, as is revealed in an epilogue that shows the characters twenty years later. Throughout the book are unattributed italicized chapters of ruminations that are devoted specifically to the “art” of parenting. At first it could be assumed that these words belong to Jody, but, in an interesting twist, the epilogue reveals that these writings are Mel’s, excerpted from a journal that he kept over the years of Jody’s skyrocketing fame in the art world, fame for which she has sacrificed her son. Beattie seems to be saying that it is Mel, the unassuming self-sacrificer, who is the true parent, the only parent who has a clear vision of Will and who has been able to “picture” him from the child to the adult.


Beattie, Ann. “An Interview with Ann Beattie.”...

(The entire section is 962 words.)