In Conversation With: Caroline Leavitt

December 27, 2010

Caroline Leavitt’s new novel, Pictures of You, explores the aftermath of a terrible accident in which a woman named April is killed. As her young son Sam and husband Charlie try to pick up the pieces of their lives, the photographer, Isabelle, who was accidentally responsible for April’s death is drawn to them. And as Isabelle and Sam get to know each other, he turns to photography as a way to process his grief.

We asked Leavitt what her favorite photograph is, and to tell us a little bit about it. Below is the story she shared with us – and what a story. Thanks, Caroline!

For most of my life, my mother told me there were no photographs of her as a child. One of eight kids, born to Russian immigrant parents, she never would say anything about her childhood except that it had been ordinary. But ten years ago, when her sister died, this incredible photograph was discovered in a basement. Taken by a studio photographer, it shows my mother’s whole family, and right there, in the right hand corner, with dirty knee socks falling down, in a rumpled dress, a tentative expression on her face, is my mother at eleven.

I love this photo, and not just because it’s so fabulously old-fashioned, with the bobbed haircuts and the knickers on my uncle. I love it because of that haunting young girl, unhappily pushed off outside the boundaries of family, almost like an afterthought. When my mother saw the photo, it unlocked something in her, and all that night, she told my sister and me stories about her past. How unloved she always felt. How unwanted. How she hated that hand-me-down velvet dress. But then she talked about how she had gone on to get married and have a career, how she had had my sister and me  shockingly late, which was unthinkable for women back then. That photograph makes me see my mother differently. It makes me want to hug that young girl and tell her everything’s going to work out, and it makes me love and admire my mother for whom she is today. It’s a piece of her past, but to me, it shines in her present. – Caroline Leavitt


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