Thursday, June 26, 2014

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

Still Life with Bread Crumbs
by Anna Quindlen
Random House, 2014
272 pages
source: borrowed from the library

Publisher's Summary:
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.

Quick thoughts:
Anna Quindlen and I go way back. From her early columns and essays, to those first few novels, and most recently her nonfiction title Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, she now seems like an old friend... and any new novel she writes becomes irresistible.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs got off to a slow start for me, but it was refreshing to see an older heroine (Rebecca is 60). I also loved the upstate New York setting. Like many readers, I'm drawn to novels set close to home and Quindlen nails life in this small town.

Rebecca's story is "deeply moving and often very funny" as promised, but the writing is the true star of this novel. These quotes will linger in my mind long after memories of the story have faded.

Favorite Quotes:
There are two kinds of men: men who want a wife who is predictable, and men who want a wife who is exotic. For some reason, Peter had thought she was the latter. But even if that had been the case, the problem inherent remains the same -- once she becomes a wife, the exotic becomes familiar, and thus predictable, and thus not what was wanted at all. Those few women who stayed exotic usually were considered, after a few years, to be crazy.  page 104 
... 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.  page 223 
Her marriage had been like a new silk dress, so beautiful and undulating, except that after a while the edges of the sleeves gray, there is a spot of wine, the hem drags. If her love affair with Peter had stopped after six months it would have been a gorgeous memorable thing. But in love no one ever leaves well enough alone, and so it settles into a strange unsatisfactory kind of friendship or sours into mutual recriminations and regret, the dress pushed to the back of the closet, limp and so unnew, embalmed in plastic because of what it once was.  page 124
My rating:



Bottom line:
Still Life with Bread Crumbs is a good story with great writing, but I definitely prefer Quindlen's nonfiction.

28 comments:

  1. Oh this is good to know. I've always loved Quindlen's nonfiction but haven't always liked her fiction.

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    1. Beth F - Her fiction has been hit or miss with me, too, but I always love her nonfiction!

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  2. I'm not sure I've read any Quindlen. I love the writing from the excerpt - what a gorgeous analogy! I will definitely have to pick up some of her books though it may be better to start with her nonfiction?

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    1. Katherine P - Her latest nonfiction should be required reading for every woman as she approaches 50 (you probably don't qualify for that yet!), but I liked some of her early novels, too - One True Thing and Object Lessons.

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  3. I enjoyed this book as well. I love your quotes, especially the first one! Great review JoAnn!

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    1. Pat - Anna Quindlen is a very quotable writer :-)

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  4. Wow--you mirror my opinions about Quindlen almost exactly! I LOVE her essays, and her novels are somewhat hit-and-miss for me (although Every Last One is one of my favorite novels ever!). I haven't read her latest yet, but it's on my TBR list. I'll get to it eventually . . .

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    1. bookmammalmusings - I tend to like her earlier novels better, especially One True Thing and Object Lessons, but will read anything she writes :)

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  5. FANTASTIC passages! I need to read it. Quindlen has such a way with words.

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    1. Vasilly - She really does have a way with words. I got to meet her just over a year ago and she's wonderful in person, too!

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  6. Well if "Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake" and "Every Last One" is any indication, I'm there. And seriously, can't you see why I get her and Ann Patchett confused?

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    1. Sandy - She's pretty amazing... as is Ann Patchett ;-)

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  7. I'm planning to read this this summer--I'mm still new to Quindlen, having only read Candles/Cake. I like the premise a lot though--setting and characters as well.

    I appreciated the quotes--especially the one about exotic/familiar. Very insightful.

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    1. JaneGS - The exotic/familiar quote was my favorite. I don't think any of her novels can compare to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, but they're still very good and definitely worth reading.

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  8. I've been curious about this one. Maybe I'll pick up Lots of Candles first!

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    1. Melissa - Lots of Candles,Plenty of Cake is an all-time favorite. If you enjoyed Ann Patchett's This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, I'm sure you'll like that, too.

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  9. I gave this one a similar rating. Liked it well enough I guess, but after Lots of Candles Plenty of Cake, it was disappointing.

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    1. Diane - Just about anything would be disappointing after Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake!

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  10. I really enjoyed this one, too.

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    1. Carrie - Quindlen sure is a great writer!

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  11. I haven't read her nonfiction but think maybe it's time I pick something up! It's been years since I've read anything by her but she is a lovely writer!

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    1. Trish - You MUST try some of her nonfiction...it's excellent!

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  12. I love her non-fiction as well. I bought this book because I bought a ticket to attend an event with Anna, and then it didn't work out, but i have a signed book...yay me. I'll get to it....someday.

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    1. Anita - Quindlen sure seems to be more popular for her nonfiction, but her novels are good, too. Hope you enjoy this one when you get to it!

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  13. Can't wait to read this one. I've had mixed results with Quindlen's novels (I think I'm the only person who didn't love Black and Blue) but love her essays.

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    1. Lisa - I've had mixed reactions to Quindlen's novels, too. The one that really missed the mark for me was Blessings.

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  14. I just finished reading/listening to this book last night. I held off looking to see what you thought until I finished. I was more than halfway through the book before I liked Rebecca Winter. By the end I understood her and was much more sympathetic. I agree with you on Quindlen - she is an excellent writer but I too prefer her nonfiction.

    P.S. I love your Mark Twain quote today.

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    1. Margot - It took me quite a while to warm up to Rebecca, too. I'm sure I'll keep reading Quindlen's novels, but it's her nonfiction that really speaks to me.

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