Saturday, February 15, 2014

Anna Quindlen's Still Life with Bread Crumbs

On Thursday afternoon thirty-six men and women arrived at the South County Regional Library eager to talk about Rachel Joyce's heart-rending debut novel, "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry." I felt right at home, among old friends and new, as I slid back into my role as facilitator, doing what I always did best as a librarian, sharing my love for the written word. I realized, as we discussed the afternoon away, how desperate we readers are for kind authors. Rachel Joyce is one, Anna Quindlen is another.

Anna Quindlen.jpg

I have been following Ms. Quindlen since her Pulitzer Prize winning days as a journalist. I don't miss any of her books. Should I explain what I mean by a kind author? I love a writer who cares enough about the characters he or she creates that he'll allow them to struggle through the dips in life, as we all must, but still arrive at the end of the tunnel with some hope for the future. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I believe I've outgrown my penchant for the persistent dark side.

Harold Fry was one such character. Rebecca Winter is another. At sixty-one, her once brilliant career apparently ebbing, no longer able to take the balance in her check book for granted, the renowned photographer suddenly finds herself among the so-called sandwich generation. Her mother's stay in assisted living is assisted by Rebecca's royalty checks, and her son Ben, though ostensibly on his own, is never averse to a helping hand.

 To stay on top of the bills, Rebecca takes a step considered drastic in her social circle. She rents out her gorgeous Manhattan apartment for a sinful fee and moves upstate to a crumbling cottage in a nowhere town where she can re-evaluate her life and, just maybe, find a new direction for her art.

It's fun to watch Rebecca, the city girl, cope with the raccoons in the attic, the dearth of cell towers and Internet connections, the quiet that opens up the ears to new sounds: a deer startling through the woods, evening owls, the howl of a lonely dog. There are the requisite characters so typical of small towns, each with a back story worthy of exploration, from Sarah who owns the tea shop/scone bakery, to Tad, the lonely clown who makes everyone happy except himself.

And then there's Jim Bates, the catalyst for all that will follow. A sorrowful man, wise beyond his forty-some years, we intuit that he carries a heavy burden which reveals itself over time. He and Rebecca haunt the same woods and ultimately come to know each other through a business deal that Rebecca needs financially and, perhaps, Jim needs emotionally. Together, they sit in a tree stand for days at a time, he tracking bald eagles for a conservation group, she photographing them.

"Still Life with Bread Crumbs" is a novel  full of love, life, and reality, an examination of people who have trouble seeing what's right in front of their eyes because they're so busy looking to the future rather than being, well, still. It's a book about connections almost missed because of pride or prejudice. It's a book that you may find, as I did, you'll read in one sitting, place aside on your table, stare into space, and sigh with pure satisfaction.

Apologies in advance if you don't hear from me for a while. I finally got Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch" and am 100 pages in. I'm gobsmacked by the writing and fully expect to be enthralled for the next 700 pages. Thank you for reading.

1 comment:

manking said...

very nice posts you.