At 60 and divorced, Rebecca Winter, the well known photographer and lifelong New Yorker, is still a famous name, but her works are no longer bringing in the money they once did. Money she needs now to provide elder care for her parents. So she sublet her New York apartment and has just moved into a "fully furnished" cottage that's turned out to be nowhere near the gem its ad had alleged it to be. What's more, it's on a street that has no name, it's got a raccoon in its attic, only four forks in its silverware drawer and nary a single electric outlet in its bedroom. Not so hot a spot for starting over, it would seem. But fate seems to have other ideas.
As a reader with a table-high stack of books waiting to be read, I can't believe that what I did after getting to the end of this book, was to go straight back to the beginning and start over. I don't think I've ever done that with a book before. Sure, I re-visit my Jane Austens from time to time, but I've never before liked a book so much and gotten so involved with its characters that I went straight from the end right back to the beginning. Bravo and thank you, Anna Quindlen.
By the way, "Still Life With Bread Crumbs" is the title of Rebecca's most famous and best-selling photo.
Addenda 1/29/14: I've just read a really interesting interview with the author in today's Washington Post and am posting a link in the comment below.
on January 11, 2014
Anna Quindlen is an outstanding author and when I saw she had written something new, I knew I had to read it. I am so glad I did, it did not disappoint. I found myself wanting more but satisfied with what I got.
To begin with, Rebecca Winter, the person this whole story is about, is 60 years old. I mean a bright, youthful, intelligent and healthy 60 years old. That to me is such a refreshing change, rather than a grandmotherly, aging, overweight and sickly 60 years old. So I was wonderfully pleased with that immediately. Beyond the fact of age, Rebecca is a very engaging woman, a rather famous photographer who has been successful in her life. Yet, she has come to a crossroads, where the money isn't flowing in any more and she looks for a change.
Rebecca rents a cabin in the woods that she found on the internet. So site unseen she moves in to this cabin and begins on a new and very different way of living than she has ever experienced. Many people become part of her life. One young roofer in particular, Jim Bates. Thus begins a very touching and realistic love story.
This is not only a love story though. It is about a woman re-inventing herself and finding peace with her aging parents, son and most of all herself.
on February 8, 2014
I had never read an Anna Quindlen novel prior to 'Still Life with Bread Crumbs'. But the premise and the mostly glowing reviews, convinced me to give Ms. Quindlen's novel a try. I'm always excited when I discover a new author I like. However, now I'm not at all sure I will try any of her other novels.
I found some of the descriptive passages in this book to be almost poetic. I always enjoy a writer who can make me see what she sees. And since I am sixty years old and am in the process of 'remaking' myself after retiring from a career of 27 years, this book should have resonated with me. It did not. I felt as if I was reading a first draft, that the author had wanted to get all the bare bones of the story down quickly so she could come back and flesh out the scenes later. There was so much potential to plumb with various relationships in Rebecca Winter's life. However, I felt the author spent way too much time going over and over all the ways Ms. Winter's snobby husband had scarred her and not enough time showing the relationships blooming in her new life. I found Ms. Quindlen's habit of foreshadowing future information with 'more about that later' and of cramming additional information in parentheses particularly annoying. These only serve to jerk a reader out of the story, much like someone talking to you when you are trying to watch a movie.
I feel the bones of a good book are here. But depth of character is not and if I am not emotionally invested in the characters, no amount of artful description is enough to make me like a book.
I really enjoyed this new book by accomplished writer Anna Quindlen. It is a delightful book that is both a good story and well written.
Charming, eccentric and talented, photographer Rebecca Winter held a place of esteem in the New York City art world, until she didn't. At sixty, divorced and responsible for the care of her aging parents, Rebecca seemed to be heading on the fast track to nowhere. Expenses mounting, she decided to rent out her lovely Manhattan apartment and move to a rustic cabin a couple of hours out into the country. She hoped to save money and possibly come up with artistic inspiration.
Anna Quindlen has drawn a marvelously complex character in Rebecca - a success story trying to doge her downfall. Away from the city, Rebecca begins to discover aspects of life that are far different from her prior experience - such as a raccoon living in the attic that must be removed and destroyed. Why destroyed? As the roofer, Jim Bales, explained to her, raccoons will return to their old hiding spots and her attic was perfect. It seemed that he was a font of information of the kind that artsy city dwellers rarely had need to use. He was also doing a study of birds for the Audubon Society and hired her to do photography for the study. That he was also helpful and good-looking was an added attraction.
This would be an excellent book club selection with its variety of characters and the contrasts between rural and city life and life outlook. I would strongly recommend the book to anyone who enjoys women's fiction.
on February 1, 2014
I loved the idea behind the book: an unconventional love story between older adults. However, the book was slow in an irritating way and the narration transitions ( from describing Rebecca's experiences to describing Jim's experiences) were jarring. Throughout the book, I felt as though the author was disconnected from her characters, as though she was writing about them from far away and without enthusiasm.
By odd coincidence, I had just finished a book with a similar plot: woman escapes her fancy life in the city, comes to mountain cabin to heal, rediscovers her art, makes instant friends with townspeople, especially one who bakes delicious pastries for her own shop, and, above all, true love. The writer of the first is decently respected; her books have tasteful covers, no ripping bodices or raised gold script. The prose seemed so cliched, as well as the template of so many novels I had devoured when I was younger. I wondered if I had lost my taste for fiction!
Not to worry, Anna Quindlen to the rescue. Every character is fresh and genuine seeming, the writing not laden with turgid cliches, things don't magically fall together, but arise organically out of the plausible circumstances and characters drawn. The writing craft is also different, with an extremely omniscient narrator at times, yet this just adds to the enjoyment---with minor characters, sometimes you get to find out what they really said when they got home, or what ever became of them!
My only disappointment is that it was so fast to read, it was over too quickly. Unlike the ealier book, I did not feel like the last x pages were a slog to find out what happens because I had invested so much time into the book; to the contrary, I did not want it to end.
A most satisfying read!
Rebecca was sophisticated, Manhattan matured. How did she get duped into a country cottage with things that go bang in the night, odors, dilapidation, and aloneness? Rebecca's life framed-out like photography needing explanation, denoting failure.
Anna Quindlen has created a melancholy muse of the inner spirit, complete with classic ghosts from life's past and forward expectancy. Chance love of a second variety.
Rebecca's signature photo titled "Still Life with Bread Crumbs," a triumph in her youthful creative years, now served her little more than a reminder of aging and her struggle as a mature lady caught in the `sandwich generation' trap. Her income's failing to cover living for three generations suggested economization, which meant down-size.
Cottage life at a forest's edge included accounts of a stray dog called Jack. It could mist the eyes of a brawny handyman. Speaking of which . . . Jim, a roofer, evicted pests, hammered a fit tin roof, and could be objectively romantic. Was 15 years age disparity a factor in the "seniors'" world?
Such an intimate look at life, loneliness, love, loss, time past, time frozen, thoughts, fears, joys, and through balm and berries--hope.
Being a Baby Boomer I can wholeheartedly recommend this book of fiction. Though for the Boomer culture group Anna Quindlen's story will seem more like reality. It's pleasant reading but really gets the nostalgia churning. Poignant!
It's like a crocus blooming among sprouts of senility.
on February 13, 2014
Quindlen is way too good a writer to produce such drivel. I started
reading her when she was a New York Times columnist and have read
all of her subsequent books. She's written some good ones and some
not so good. This falls into the latter category. Still a Marylou
Henner or another actress like her will have a field day with this
when she is paired off with some hunk (He's a roofer in the book)
and eventually after trial and tribulation finds happiness.
on March 30, 2014
I, too, am a long time admirer of Anna Quindlen who remembers well her Newsweek/ My Turn columns her books like Black and Blue. I recall rejoicing when she wrote of the birth of her daughter. She has, justifiably, won a Pulitzer Prize, the love of Oprah and other well-deserved honors.
So who am I to complain that she’s used her considerable talents to turn out fantasy chick lit? If she’s written a Cinderella story for the AARP set, should I be so churlish as to wish she’d done more?
Apparently I am just that sort of reader. Here's why and here's the spoiler alert.
My distress comes because I admire Quindlen as a champion of women’s issues. Despite beautiful observations about and well-crafted phrases, SLWB seems lightweight, its concerns solved with a highly-improbably, happily-ever-after conclusion where main character, Rebecca, finds new fame, fortune AND a man.
The man she finds, of course, is 15 years younger, a blond hunk working as a roofer and overall good guy. Just days into her exile, she happens upon this perfect, sensitive everywoman's dream, who loves dogs, cares for his disabled sister and is enchanted by a 60 year old woman with a large lower lip who wears no make up, dresses in clothes from Wal-Mart and wears her hair in a stumpy braid.
Can Match.com find a guy like this for the rest of us? And should we need one?
I long for a writer who will give us a story of a strong woman of 60 plus who finds contentment and purpose on her own. No men necessary.
Granted, that type of book wouldn’t make it to print—let alone garner gushing praise from the normally cranky critics of the New York Times. What we women want, apparently, are more stories like SLWB—and films like Under the Tuscan Sun and those by Nancy Meyers. We crave those formulaic plots: formerly wealthy married woman--of a certain age but still attractive, smart and strong willed-- leaves her life in the big city, sheds her lousy husband to strike out on her own in an out of the way--but charming-- small town.
The problem is, I have known women like this and their problems were far greater than those of Rebecca Winters, raccoons, leaky roofs, aging parents and snowstorms not withstanding.
They women I knew moved to towns that didn’t feature shops like Tea for Two with its fresh daily scones. For them it was Mildred’s Diner with pickled eggs and ham biscuits. The few—VERY few—single men favored camouflage jackets and John Deere hats, owned several guns and mostly talked of hunting and their trucks and how Obama was out to take away their Second Amendment rights. Their crazy ex-wives still lived in close by as did their children from a first or second marriage. They had a pocket full of Viagra and a desire to hook up with the 20 year old waitress at the truck stop.
The townspeople didn’t embrace a stranger in their midst, either. When she avoided the Wednesday night Bible studies, they knew she was just another “fast-talkin’ Yankee gal… a liberal and probably an atheist to boot.”
If the women I knew had the desire to gift six posters of their photographs to the diner’s owner, the cost of $25 per poster and the drive the local Kinko’s twenty miles away would have stopped them. They’d wonder—pre-Obama care-- how they were going to get –much less pay for --health insurance at age 60 given their less than perfect bodies.
But plucky, lucky Rebecca had to deal with none of this. She had no health crises to knock her flat. All the problematic people in her life conveniently died off. She inherited a fortune and became famous--in the NYC art world which had once rejected her and which she had turned her back on.
Nothing but blue skies ahead for Rebecca, "Though that was later," as the author would say.
So good for Rebecca and good for all those thousands who loved, loved, loved this book. And even good for Anna Quindlen. She’s worked hard for her success and deserves the rewards as much as the fictional Rebecca Winter.
Real life of course, isn’t like SLWB, and Quindlen, along with her editor and millions of other women, knows the difference. Isn’t that is why we flock to fantasy and escapism of chick lit? Because real life isn’t nearly as entertaining.
Rebecca, the main subject of this story is what is sometimes described as "An unfinished woman". I see her as a woman whose previous success as a photographic artist has supported her and her aging parents and her son. The income is decreasing as the years go by and her photograph know as "Still Life with Bread Crumbs", an iconic work is used in calendars and cards and is the source of most of their money. She is divorced from a man who shattered her self confidence even more than her mother had over the years. Her aging father had always bolstered her with compliments and advice. He is still living in the family apartment and her mother;saddled with dementia is in a nursing facility nearby. Rebecca decides to rent out her upper west side Manhattan apartment and rent a small cabin upstate counting on the rent from the apartment to cover her bills and hoping the change of scenery will inspire her work. The challenges of living in a rural area are apparent immediately when she is faced with a raccoon in the attic, something she would never deal with in Manhattan. In fact in Manhattan the supers deal with everything. Here she must deal long distance with her disrespectful, downright rude agent of her work. She makes a discovery on a walk that changes her life. An altar almost, complete with a cross and as she discovers and photographs others found over time, she wonders what they signify. This is the mystery that affects her life as well as her chance at love. The ending was unexpected and so nicely tied up the story, No hanging on and wondering about a sequel here. This is a complete story!