Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Still Life with Bread Crumbs

by Anna Quindlen
 Random House   2014
272 pages     Fiction

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen is a comfortable book--or maybe I just think that because I am slightly older than the protagonist Rebecca Winter and my life experience parallels hers in some ways. Or maybe it's comfortable because the author writes in the third person, and we can read about Rebecca while remaining slightly detached. Or maybe it's because it is a "romantic comedy of manners," as one reviewer calls it, and the reader can enjoy it in bits and pieces.

Well, no matter. Still Life with Bread Crumbs is a delightful read. Rebecca Winter has been a hugely successful photographer, but she has rested on her laurels for too long, and the royalties for her most famous photograph "Still Life with Bread Crumbs" have virtually dried up. She rents a small cottage in upstate New York so that she can lease her New York apartment for a huge sum of money which she needs to pay for nursing home care for her mother and rent for her father's apartment. But life in the country is lonely, and at first she hardly knows what to do with herself. As she slowly adapts to her surroundings, she finds her creativity returning and she is able to produce some of the best work of her career.

This is a book about moving on, and most women who have lived for 60 plus years know how to move on because of parents dying and children leaving. I suppose that is why it is so easy to identify with Rebecca. On the other hand, part of Rebecca is having a hard time moving on--the part that had an unfortunate marriage and a failed career. That part needs the break and the solitude the cottage in the woods affords. As the book nears the end, Rebecca finds that her body has rebounded as has her mind and her creativity--enough so that the sojourn in the country becomes her life's choice. Rebecca's thought process: "when she really thought about it, she realized she'd been becoming different people for as long as she could remember but had never really noticed."

Still Life with Bread Crumbs is funny in many places particularly in the clever and obvious foreshadowing, the flashbacks, and the delightful chapter titles. The NPR reviewer says that Quindlen has her "finger firmly planted on the pulse of her generation." In an interview, Quindlen says,  "I got the jump on reinvention some time ago, actually. I reinvented myself as a mother in my 30s and as a novelist in my 40s. But I never say never. I think one of the most wonderful things about how much longer we all live now is that people feel free to mix it up, to have a third or fourth act in life." 

I am trying to figure out which act I am in. Perhaps just moving out of the third and into the fourth. 

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