An Absence So Great: A Novel (Portraits of the Heart)

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This fun, sweet novel beautifully captures the power of romantic and platonic love alike. There is something about this place that renders everything full of magic.

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And of course, it's a story about the friends who guide us through it all. But underneath the privilege surges real pain, longing, and feeling in a way that makes it easy to imagine this novel as a film. It was part love letter to LA, part mystery, and part sweeping romance of first love.

A beautiful way to start any momentous summer. A haunting and hopeful book about loss, love, and redemption. Nina LaCour.

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Back News Appearances. Order Books. I moved the child to my hip. Did the mother want the plant in the photograph? To my surprise, she removed the fern, set it on the floor, then brought the pedestal to sit in front of where my camera focused. The mother took the child from my arms and plopped Misha on the plant stand, allowing the skirt of the dress to flow down onto the turned pedestal. The woman smiled for the first time, revealing a single dimple and one broken tooth. It would be so much better if the mother just held him on her lap or we placed the child in a chair, safely propping him up.

It will blur. The woman misunderstood and released her hands at that moment, allowing the child to simply be. I turned to the man. To be safe, even with the brace.

An Absence So Great: A Novel (Portraits of the Heart) (Paperback)

The infant kicked his feet and smiled. How little it takes to appease us when we trust those around us to keep us safe.


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I secured the brace, which looked like large tongs of a tuning fork, slipping them around the slender ribcage of the child and attaching the base to the plant stand. I fluffed the dress out to cover the contraption. It would be there just long enough to expose the film. The man translated, and the woman nodded. I worked fast then, racing against the light and my own anxiety about the security of the child. I rolled my Graflex to the best angle, checked the position in front of a dark backdrop, then lifted my hand up as I bent beneath the cloth.

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I held my breath. But the mother appeared to have great confidence, for she stepped back before I signaled, and farther than necessary to be out of the picture. Her husband spoke to her, and she returned as the child wiggled. I straightened up, took a step forward, but the brace held firm. I glanced up at the feeble light then and whisked back behind the camera, pushing my own long skirt to the side with a swish.

Who knew the story behind the separation of this family? How we put people we love in awkward poses is not a subject easily discussed even among intimates, let alone a photographer and her subjects. As I looked at the child through the lens, Misha sat perfectly apart, a singular image of innocence detailed with delicate eyes and nose and ears and hands balled into soft fists.

Would I trust what I loved to an unseen brace? Time and light faded.

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I lowered my hand as the signal. The woman stepped out of the picture. I exposed the film. She had let happen what might, trusted in a strength she could not see.

The Project Gutenberg eBook of Cuore (Heart), by Edmondo De Amicis.

She had good reasons to be here. Why had she come to Milwaukee if not to prove to herself and others that she could make wise choices and pursue a dream?


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  5. You look so young. Your husband then. But it was the perfect accoutrement, so much more distinctive than a certain kind of hat or a new pair of shoes. Jessie needed inspiration with fall closing in on her, the days soon shortening into long, lonely nights. Winter always made her dreary, and this first one away from her family promised to weigh her down like the pile of wool quilts on the bed that she no longer shared with her sisters.