I’ve been a fan of Jodi Picoult’s novels ever since I read her Amish legal thriller Plain Truth more than fifteen years ago. My aunt recently chose an older Picoult novel, Picture Perfect, for our online family book group, and I enjoyed the author’s signature approach of dealing with tough topics from a variety of perspectives. Once again, Picoult demonstrates that issues are never quite as black-and-white as they first appear.
The story begins with a gripping opening scene: a woman wakes up in a cemetery with a head injury and a case of amnesia. An off-duty police officer named Will Flying Horse finds her and takes care of her. Will has recently moved to L.A. from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and on his first day with the LAPD, he escorts Jane Doe to the police station. No one has filed a Missing Person report, but after running her picture in the newspaper, Will discovers that she is not just a “regular” person.
Her name is Cassie Barrett Rivers, and she’s a world-renowned anthropologist. More surprising, though, is the fact that she is married to Alex Rivers, a famous Hollywood leading man. As soon as Alex hears about Cassie’s accident, he hurries home from Scotland, where he’s been filming his next big movie, to pick her up at the police station. Cassie still doesn’t remember anything and is overwhelmed to realize she is married to one of the world’s biggest movie stars.
Alex takes Cassie home to their gorgeous Malibu beach house (and later, to their huge Bel-Air mansion) and takes care of her. He tries to help her remember by sharing photos and stories of their life together. Little by little, Cassie begins to remember some things, like how they met on the set of a movie in Africa. Alex is kind, caring, and gentle, but gradually, Cassie begins to feel as if there is something else below the surface of their marriage, something she can’t quite remember.
The rest of the plot unfolds with plenty of twists and turns, so I won’t give away any spoilers by describing more. Much of the first half of the novel is told in flashbacks, as Cassie remembers things from her childhood and her early days with Alex. Once she regains her memory fully, she is left with some very difficult choices to make.
As with all Picoult novels, this one shows the reader that there are shades of gray to every issue and that things are not always as simple as they appear. I enjoy this kind of thoughtful and thought-provoking book, though the subject matter here was difficult at times. I liked Cassie but found myself getting frustrated with her…though perhaps that’s just what Picoult intended, as the reader first makes snap judgments and then gradually comes to see that things are not as clear-cut as they seem.
Cassie’s career as an anthropologist underlines the theme that human relationships are complex and far more complicated than those outside the relationship could ever suspect. While this early novel of Picoult’s isn’t quite as accomplished and tightly plotted as her later works, it is still a compelling, enlightening story on a very important topic.
369 pages, Berkley Books