Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
2014 Random House
Finished on 2/4/14
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
Still Life with Bread Crumbs begins with an imagined gunshot and ends with a new tin roof. Between the two is a wry and knowing portrait of Rebecca Winter, a photographer whose work made her an unlikely heroine for many women. Her career is now descendent, her bank balance shaky, and she has fled the city for the middle of nowhere. There she discovers, in a tree stand with a roofer named Jim Bates, that what she sees through a camera lens is not all there is to life.
Brilliantly written, powerfully observed, Still Life with Bread Crumbs is a deeply moving and often very funny story of unexpected love, and a stunningly crafted journey into the life of a woman, her heart, her mind, her days, as she discovers that life is a story with many levels, a story that is longer and more exciting than she ever imagined.
It’s been four years since I read Quindlen’s amazing novel, Every Last One. That book took my breath away! It sucker-punched with me with its too-close-for-comfort plot and has stayed with me ever since the day I finished. I’ve read other novels and works of nonfiction by Quindlen, yet Every Last One remains my favorite. I was so excited when I received an ARC of Still Life with Bread Crumbs (love the cover art!) and had high hopes for another winner, but as far as I was concerned, this new one missed the mark. It was entertaining and held my interest, but something was lacking, keeping me from running out to buy the hardcover edition when it hit the shelves. In spite of my slight disappointment, Quindlen remains one of my favorite authors, tapping into the psyche of women my age.
On aging (and heart attacks):
There were nights when she woke with a barbed-wire fence of minor but undeniable pain around her heart, and she rehearsed what she’d eaten that day—raisin bran, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, chicken and rice, the cuisine of a freshman at boarding school—and convinced herself that it was indigestion, then wondered if she was having the female version of a heart attack, which she had been told was often overlooked, which seemed right since her experience was that women overlooked most of what their hearts told them. In the morning she felt fine except for the fact that she had made her hands into little paws beneath her cheek and they had gone numb at the wrists. In recent years what she missed most about her youth was sleep, that ability to fall into a hole of unconsciousness and land, softly and without sensation, at the bottom, to awake ten hours later rested and with skin remarkably uncreased.
She had been so relieved when the car had turned in to the bumpy gravel drive, when she saw the dog emerge from the back shed, when she opened the door to what had become a familiar smell of old woodsmoke, mildew, and vegetable soup. One day she had been out walking and she had wondered whether she’d become a different person in the last year, maybe because of what Paige Whittington had said about the dog pictures. Then 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, or had put it down to moods, or marriage, or motherhood. The problem was that she’d thought that at a certain point she would be a finished product. Now she wasn’t sure what that might be, especially when she considered how sure she had been about it at various times in the past, and how wrong she’d been. She considered the weight at the foot of the bed. For how many years had she said confidently that she was not a dog person? It just goes to show, whatever that meant. Her father had used that expression all the time. It just goes to show, sweetheart!
While not as impressive as Every Last One (and maybe One True Thing), Still Life with Bread Crumbs is certainly a worthwhile read and one that I enjoyed a great deal. It may be a few more years before she publishes another novel, but meanwhile I still have Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake in my stacks. Can’t wait!