Quindlen’s lat­est both en­gag­ing, clunky

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Sharon Chisvin

IN the prime of her life, Re­becca Winters was a cel­e­brated pho­tog­ra­pher and an icon of the in­ter­na­tional fem­i­nist move­ment. When the con­tem­po­rary novel Still Life with Bread Crumbs be­gins, how­ever, Winters is a woman on the verge of 60 who has lost her mar­riage, home, fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity and be­lief in her­self. Winters is the in­ven­tion of pro­lific Amer­i­can au­thor Anna Quindlen. With vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess, Quindlen has used her six best­selling nov­els and much of her non-fic­tion to metic­u­lously ex­am­ine, dis­sect and cel­e­brate the daily or­deals and tri­umphs of or­di­nary peo­ple. Al­though this new­est novel pales in com­par­i­son to Quindlen’s heartwrench­ing novel One True Thing, it is a mostly read­able, en­gag­ing and sat­is­fy­ing tale about one woman’s quest to re­gain con­trol of her life by mak­ing long-over­due changes. For Winters, these changes in­clude rent­ing out her beloved Man­hat­tan apart­ment, mov­ing to a rus­tic ru­ral cabin and re­turn­ing to her art. They also mean be­com­ing a re­luc­tant dog owner, dis­tanc­ing her­self from her ag­ing par­ents and dump­ing her snotty city friends and busi­ness as­so­ciates. In the course of do­ing all that, Winters hes­i­tantly be­friends a mot­ley crew of small-town, mainly one-di­men­sional ec­centrics. These odd­balls in­clude a star-struck café owner, a failed opera singer and a gruff but gold-hearted roofer with whom, un­sur­pris­ingly, Winters falls in love. While most read­ers will pre­dict the love af­fair, as well as many other events in the nar­ra­tive, the ro­mance’s in­evitabil­ity, oddly, does not de­flect from the story. On the other hand, sev­eral clumsy sen­tences — the kind that re­quire se­cond and even third read­ings — do prove dis­tract­ing. Ex­am­ples in­clude the fol­low­ing ob­ser­va­tion, meant to de­scribe Winter’s dread re­gard­ing her de­clin­ing life sav­ings: “Like those things that have fright­ened you that are writ­ten on your body, strug­gling in deep wa­ter or fall­ing off a high lad­der, she now re­al­ized that she would never be able to look at her bank state­ment again without that cold feel­ing in her chest, an ac­cel­er­ated heart­beat.” Yet even with prose such as this, Quindlen man­ages to con­jure up enough in­ter­est and em­pa­thy for her soul-search­ing, down-on-her-luck pro­tag­o­nist. Mud­dling through life “with the pe­cu­liar empty feel­ing that she of­ten had in­stead of sad­ness,” Winters knows she is far from per­fect. She is of­ten self­ish, un­kind and thought­less. When she dis­cov­ers a se­ries of minia­ture hand-crafted memo­ri­als in the woods be­hind her home, she pho­to­graphs and ex­hibits them, without con­sid­er­ing who might have en­acted them and what they might mean. This kind of be­hav­iour, cou­pled with other neg­a­tive traits, make Winters seem real and re­lat­able. Ul­ti­mately, she is noth­ing more and noth­ing less than a woman look­ing both back­wards and for­wards, fight­ing re­gret and lone­li­ness, and seek­ing ac­com­plish­ment, ac­cep­tance and love. In Quindlen’s hands, she also is a woman who may just prove that 60 re­ally is the new 40.

Sharon Chisvin is a Win­nipeg writer.

Still Life with Bread

Crumbs Anna Quindlen Ran­dom House, 256 pages, $30

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