Art, life and wild animals in the attic

Years ago, when she wrote op-ed columns for The New York Times and I worked on a newspaper editorial page, I loved Anna Quidlen’s work. Her columns were well written and insightful, a welcome change from the humdrum, the strident and the boringly predictable that I read day in and day out.

I had somehow missed most of her novels, and I’m so glad I got my hands on this, her seventh.

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

STILL LIFE WITH BREAD CRUMBS. By Anna Quindlen. Random House. 252 pages. $26.

This novel is beautifully written and quietly profound.

It’s the story of Rebecca Winter, a photographer who achieved considerable fame because of her “Kitchen Counter” series of photos of the everyday stuff of ordinary women’s lives.

Her fame has waned, however, just as much in her life has gone downhill. Her husband is gone, her son grown, her mother in an expensive nursing facility and her father needing help with his bills. At 60, she realizes that her career is faltering, and she’s running out of money.

Unable to afford the luxury of living in her New York City apartment any longer, Rebecca puts it up for rent and, on impulse, takes refuge in a ramshackle mountain cabin that looked a lot better in its photos on the Internet. A city person by birth and rearing, Rebecca has spent her life about as removed from nature as is possible.

Of course, she finds herself needing some help as wild creatures invade her attic and other realities of life in the woods set in. She finds help and a lot more in the person of Jim Bates, a local roofer.

That first summer, as Rebecca hikes the woods and hills near her new home, she begins to discover oddly placed white wooden crosses about 3 feet high, usually grouped with objects such as a trophy or a card. Of course, she takes photos of these unexpected discoveries.

Gently, with great insight and in lovely prose, Anna Quindlen leads us through the story of what happens to Rebecca and those in her life. There is a romance here, but there is much more. Anyone who knows Quindlen’s nonfiction and fiction works would expect insights into the life of a woman, and certainly they are here.

But even more striking is the reflection on the relationships between art and life. On one level, Rebecca learns to stop letting her art shelter her from life.

On another level, she comes to ponder the difference between created works and the realities that inspire or contribute to them. Creative writers, photographers, artists, even journalists capture a moment and make it representative of something more. What they produce is a truth of sorts, but only part of the truth.

Through Rebecca, Still Life With Bread Crumbs ponders “the terrible eternity of immortality,” in which someone’s pain or tragedy can live on, even after that person is gone.

This is a lovely book.

  • Linda C. Brinson is available for writing and editing projects. You can reach her at lindacbrinson@gmail.com

 

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