Still Life with Bread Crumbs

By Anna Quindlen

(Random House, $26, 272 pages)

Who is this author?

Anna Quindlen reached a journalism pinnacle when she became a New York Times Op-Ed columnist, only the third woman to achieve that position, and then won a Pulitzer Prize for her columns there. She published two collections, “Living Out Loud” and “Thinking Out Loud,” and left the Times in 1995 for Newsweek, where her columns were later published in the collection “Loud and Clear.” She also had great success with her inspirational advice book, “A Short Guide to a Happy Life,” which has sold more than a million copies. But Quindlen says her heart always belonged to fiction-writing, and she has had many best-sellers, including “Object Lessons,”  “One True Thing” and “Black and Blue.”

Here is what she said in a Barnes & chat: “I really only went into the newspaper business to support my fiction habit, but then discovered, first of all, that I loved reporting for its own sake and, second, that journalism would be invaluable experience for writing novels.”

What is this book about?

Rebecca Winter is 60 and an admired – though increasingly less financially successful – photographer. Circumstances, such as a cad of a husband who drops her for a younger woman, persuade her to leave city life to rent a country cabin so that she can sublet her apartment for the income and also re-boot her artistic career What she finds there includes a pesty raccoon, a dog who adopts her, a woman who runs a funky café and a divorced roofer/handyman who, as you are already guessing, can repair more than roofs. (Plus, he is 30 years younger: this is how you know it’s fiction.) “Still Life” is a romantic comedy that is humorous but never sappy, and it is certain to please Quindlen’s many fans.

Why you’ll like it:

As she proved over and over again in her columns, nonfiction and previous novels, Quindlen really “gets” what motivates or obstructs women, and she explores their lives with wit and deep empathy. Rebecca is older than Quindlen’s previous heroines, but not so old that she cannot start over after life tosses big obstacles in her path. Without being overly sentimental, Quindlen tells her story in a compelling way.  No doubt this will be her next best-seller.

What others are saying:

The New York Times Book Review says: “There comes a moment in every novelist’s career when she sloughs off the weight of the past—the conventions and obsessions, the stylistic fallbacks and linguistic tics, the influence of early masters—and ventures into new territory, breaking free into a marriage of tone and style, of plot and characterization, that’s utterly her own. Anna Quindlen’s marvelous romantic comedy of manners is just such a book. In Still Life With Bread Crumbs, Quindlen achieves something distinctive, a feminist novel for a post-feminist age…which proves all the more moving because of its light, sophisticated humor. Quindlen’s least overtly political novel, it packs perhaps the most serious punch.”

Says Publishers Weekly: “Quindlen’s seventh novel, following Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, is a detailed exploration of creativity and the need for connection. Rebecca Winter is a 60-year-old photographer, once revered as a feminist icon, whose work isn’t selling as briskly as it used to. She needs a fresh start after her marriage falls apart because her husband trades her in for a younger model (as he does every 10 years). She rents a cabin in the country while subletting her beloved New York City apartment, needing both the money and the space in which to find her creative spark again. Jim Bates, a local roofer who helps her with the challenges of moving into the cottage, becomes a new friend, as does a dog that seems to prefer living with her rather than with its neglectful owner. Rebecca also finds new objects to photograph in the series of homemade wooden crosses she discovers during hikes in the surrounding woods, without realizing their connection to a tragedy in Jim’s life. Quindlen has always excelled at capturing telling details in a story, and she does so again in this quiet, powerful novel, showing the charged emotions that teem beneath the surface of daily life.”

“A photographer retreats to a rustic cottage, where she confronts aging and flagging career prospects. Rebecca Winter is known for her Kitchen Counter series, black-and-white photographs capturing domestic minutia, taken as her marriage to a philandering Englishman is foundering on the shoals of mistaken assumptions. But, as her laconic and un-nurturing agent, TG, never fails to remind her, what has she done lately? Her photo royalties are in precipitous decline. Divorced, living in a high-priced Manhattan apartment, Rebecca, 60, finds herself unmoored. Her filmmaker son, Ben, still requires checks from Mom. Her mother, Bebe, is in the Jewish Home for the Aged and Infirm, where she spends her days playing piano pieces on any available surface, except an actual piano. Since the collapse of the family business, Rebecca has supported both her parents and now pays Bebe’s nursing home bills. She figures that it will be cheaper to sublet her apartment and rent a ramshackle woodland cabin upstate than to continue to ape the NYC lifestyle of her formerly successful self. She meets the usual eccentrics who people so many fictional small towns, although in Quindlen’s hands, these archetypes are convincingly corporeal. Sarah runs the English-themed Tea for Two cafe, not exactly to the taste of most locals. Until Rebecca came to town, Sarah’s only regular was Tad, ex–boy soprano, now working clown. Sarah’s ne’er-do-well husband, Kevin, sells Rebecca subpar firewood and is admonished by Jim, an upstanding local hero. After helping Rebecca remove a marauding raccoon, Jim helps her find work photographing wild birds. Like Rebecca, Jim is divorced and has onerous family responsibilities, in his case, his bipolar sister who requires constant surveillance. As Rebecca interacts with these townsfolk–and embarks on a new photo series–she begins to understand how provisional her former life–and self–really was. Occasionally profound, always engaging, but marred by a formulaic resolution in which rewards and punishments are meted out according to who ranks highest on the niceness scale,” says Kirkus Reviews.

Library Journal says: “Formerly a world-famous photographer, Rebecca Winter is past her prime and out of her element. Her photographs are yesterday’s news, her family has fallen apart, and her bank balance is inching toward negative numbers. When she can no longer afford her luxurious Manhattan apartment, Rebecca sublets and moves to a small cabin in the middle of nowhere, on a road that has no name. Away from the noise and clatter of the city, she finds peace in a quiet country life, inspiration in the form of mysterious shrines she discovers hidden deep in the woods, and unexpected love with a husky roofer 30 years her junior. VERDICT Pulitzer Prize winner Quindlen has made a home at the top of the best sellers lists with novels that capture the grace and frailty of everyday life (Object Lessons; Blessings), and her latest work is sure to take her there again. With spare, elegant prose, she crafts a poignant glimpse into the inner life of an aging woman who discovers that reality contains much more color than her own celebrated black-and-white images.”

When is it available?

Quindlen’s latest novel can be borrowed from the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Dwight and Ropkins branches.

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