The Picture Book
by Susannah Keating, contemporary (2002)
Harper, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-101493-1


After her mother's funeral, Patrizia Orman discovers letters written from the father she never knew, she decides to go seek out the man in beautiful Italy. She meets him, becomes his doormat, falls in love (with another guy, not with her father - although Freud may have a second opinion), gets fed up of the shit her father dumps on her when it's close to the end, moves back to America, boyfriend chases after her, they live happily ever after. The end.

There. I've summed up the entire story except for one vital plot development concerning the father, Masi, but anyone who has watched at least one daytime TV show will have seen the ending coming a mile away.

So why should I recommend this book? Hmm. Let's see, oh yeah. For the first half of the book, before she becomes a doormat for the sake of plot, Patrizia is really a sympathetic young woman lost and searching for a direction in her life. Her grief over her loss of a mother is so palpible it is like a icy blade slowly hacking away at my heart.

The atmosphere is exquisite too. The sunny heat of Rome, the lush scenery, and the exotic culture that made that place a haven for self-absorbed artists come to life like a spectacular virtual reality show. And yeah, Patrizia and her father really do think and behave like artists that care very little outside the sphere of their self-absorption and introspection. This is the book's strongest point - it brings out most exquisitely the double-edged attraction of an artist to his or her admirers. Their genius is seductive that sometimes it is hard to care that these self-absorbed assholes will treat you like dirt once the muse and sexual high is over. Just ask Eric, Patrizia's discarded Mr Right because he's, well, so nice, too nice.

But Patrizia's wild love with fellow artist Andrea doesn't ring real. It feels rushed - "oh, he's so sexy, and I tell ya, we have some soul psychic bond etc - WE ARE IN LOVE!" - and hollow. Masi could have been an interesting figure if Patrizia doesn't succumb so easily to his ways. In the end, he's just another stupid Picasso and Patrizia the dumb woman who keeps letting him treat her like dung. (An aside: wanna give me a heart attack? Make me watch Surviving Picasso again.)

The Picture Book is a beautiful, sun-drenched, and evocative trip to beautiful Italy. It's probably even better than the real thing, if the things I hear about Italian cab drivers are true. But unfortunately, the scenery overpowers the story, and the main characters soon become a complete nuisance. Dang, I wish I can erase them out of the picture and just enjoy the view. This book should've been a landscape.

Rating: 74


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