|Picking Up the Pieces is a nice story of a second chance at love; a love that was abandoned when careers and race threw up barriers. Now, years later, two people literally run into each other and find that they can go back and capture what they lost. The story is engaging, yet doesn't ever really live up to all that it could be.
Althea Almott is a black model who worked hard at becoming the best. Fighting discrimination in her career, she made the choice not to fight it in her personal life, and she left Harry Bensen in the middle of their love affair. She went on to be at the top of her profession. A few years ago, she married a young, rich black man who went on to become the Ambassador to France. She is back in New York, about to announce their divorce. When he finally announced he didn't love her, she left, determined to regain her standing as a model, even though she is now in her thirties.
Harry, meanwhile, recovered from his devastation by becoming a well-known photographer of rain forests and nature. He has spent the years traveling from jungle to jungle in search of a Pulitzer Prize. His agent, Leonel Murray, thinks he should get one and is pushing Harry to complete his latest portfolio and submit an application. Harry has just returned from the jungle and runs into Althea at Kennedy Airport, where he promptly faints on her. It turns out he has an infection picked up in the tropics. Althea takes him to the hospital and starts visiting him. She is roped into being his nursemaid. The sparks from their previous relationship start to rekindle, even though both fight the attraction; Althea fighting harder than Harry.
There are lots of barriers to their romance. Althea's agent counsels her against rekindling this romance telling her black models dating white men have a disadvantage. Althea sets up the barrier of re-establishing her professional standing and recovering from the sadness of her marriage. She still thinks she can't have both a career and a family.
Althea gets additional advice from her old childhood friend, Benicia Ericson. Benicia is from the same small Alabama town where Althea grew up, but Benicia's life took a different turn from Althea. She found herself pregnant and kicked out at age 18. She came to New York to find a life, but has been cautious because of her son. There is a nice little subplot giving Benicia a romance with Leonel.
Harry is an interesting character, being a freelance photographer and very independent, yet really pushing Althea to be what he wants her to be. On the one hand, he says he wants to let her find her way, and then he pushes by pressuring her. He is likable yet sulks and at times seems pretty adolescent.
While the interracial aspect of their relationship is hinted at, it is only really featured in one scene when Althea feels disapproval from a group of elderly white men in a little diner. Harry immediately leaves, letting the men know he won't be back, even though he had been a regular. Although this type of discrimination is noted as being a big factor in their choices and the outcome of their relationship, there was little to support that in the actual story.
Harry and Althea's on-again/off- again relationship was a little disappointing. One day they are hot lovers on the same wave length, only to have a disagreement creating a fissure that results in no communication. This seemed to trivialize their feelings and lessened my enjoyment in the tale.
Overall, Gale has written a nice story of second chance at love. Picking Up the Pieces is an average tale, but had a lot more potential.