Quindlen’s latest both engaging, clunky
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