Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

Well, it isn't often that I totally disagree with a book's jacket cover, and the plot description. A love story? Sort of, but not really. And, I started out thinking Anna Quindlen's Still Life with Bread Crumbs was another literary novel with little plot. Then I reconsidered. Quindlen's novel reflects her protagonist, photographer Rebecca Winter. Winter's photographs spoke to women, saying their daily lives were important. It's a message Rebecca herself lost for years. The little details of daily life are what's important.

At sixty, Rebecca sees her photography success as past success. Now, she's part of that sandwich generation with aging parents and a son. She's struggling to keep her Manhattan apartment, keep her mother in a nursing home, keep her father content with his caregiver, and, occasionally give her son some money. When she sublets her apartment and moves to a ramshackle cottage in the country, she's hoping to save some money and find a subject that means as much as her desperate photos when she was a young mother. Once again, she's a desperate woman, feeling as if her life is in the past.

Rebecca is totally unprepared for life in the country. It's the kindness of strangers that helps her through, beginning with a roofer named Jim Bates. He rids the cottage of a raccoon, brings firewood after she overpays for it, and finds a job for the photographer, taking pictures of eagles from a tree stand. Rebecca is bemused by the people she would have never met in New York; a clown who recognizes her; a woman who owns a tea shop. She doesn't know what to make of the crosses she comes across in the woods and meadows, or the dog that claims her. And, she doesn't understand the feelings of loss when her ambition collides with a history she doesn't know.

There is a love story in Anna Quindlen's Still Life with Bread Crumbs, but the book isn't designed as a romance. It's the story of a woman understanding her past, finding she still has a future at sixty, and learning she isn't alone. It's important to find the right people in life, and leave behind the people who destroy hope. Like Rebecca Winter's photographs, Still Life with Bread Crumbs shows the beauty in the details of daily life.

Anna Quindlen's website is

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen. Random House. 2014. ISBN 9781400065752 (hardcover), 252p.

FTC Full disclosure - Library book


Beth Hoffman said...

I just started reading this last night, and so far I'm enjoying it. Lovely review, Lesa.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Beth. I enjoyed it, too, but disagreed with publicizing it as "a love story".

Deborah White said...

Thanks for your review, Lesa. Because of your description, I'm much more interested in this book. The title intrigued, but a romance novel wasn't appetizing.

Lesa said...

Oh, good, Deborah. If you read it, I'll be interested to know what you thought.

Lynn said...

I just finished this book myself and totally agree with your comments -- there's a romance, yes, but this is not a romance novel. It's more a novel of rediscovery after loss, I think

Lesa said...

I agree with you, Lynn. You described it perfectly. It's nice to see that you agree. I wanted to make sure I was on track with my opinion.

Karen C said...

Hmm. The title sounds like my life these days - with soggy bread crumbs, no less! I liked your review of this book; it sounds like one I would enjoy. Once I get this course work behind me!

Deborah White said...

Lesa, you wrote "I'll be interested to know what you thought."

Here's my problem... I've never quite warmed up to Anna Quindlen's fiction. Her stories are pleasant interesting enough, and certainly relevant to my baby boomer generation. But they're rarely clever, and often obvious. Predictable.

My main discomfort, though, is with Ms. Quindlen's fiction writing voice and word choice. To me, her writing feels wooden rather than emotional or immediate. Overly planned and plotted, and excessively edited, rather than a joyous exercise by a writer enraptured by writing.

OK, there,I said it. Criticized a Pulitzer Prize winner. I dearly wish Anna Quindlen would return with a vengeance to nonfiction!

Lesa said...

Good for you, Deborah! You have every right to criticize an author. I'm not a fan of most of Quindlen's fiction either. I liked this one. But, I love her nonfiction, as you said. I really appreciate your well thought out opinion. Thank you for coming back to write it.