Monday, April 21, 2014

book review: Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

The backstory: Still Life with Bread Crumbs was longlisted for the 2014 Baileys Prize for Women's Fiction. It's also one of my book club's selections for May (we meet every other month and read two books.)

The basics: Rebecca Winter is a famous photographer who was once also rich. Now she finds herself forced to sublet the Manhattan apartment she loves and rent a quaint cottage upstate.

My thoughts: I've previously read two of Quindlen's novels: Rise and Shine and Every Last One. I read Rise and Shine when it was first released and before I started blogging, but I loved it. I had decidedly mixed feelings about her last novel, Every Last One, and admittedly I was hesitant to pick up this novel until it was longlisted for the Baileys Prize. For me, this novel falls somewhere between the other two.

Rebecca Winter is a wonderfully honest character. Quindlen deftly introduces her to the reader as both the public persona and the private person:
"Talking about art requires artists to sound purposeful and sure of themselves, but she’d never felt that way. Over the years she’d made up a lot of reasons because people didn’t seem to like the arbitrariness of the reality. They also didn’t believe that she’d simply photographed what was already there—a bottle lying on its side with the puddle of olive oil shimmering along its curved lip, a handful of greasy forks glistening in the overhead lights, and, of course, what was later called Still Life with Bread Crumbs, a vaguely Flemish composition of dirty wine glasses, stacked plates, the torn off two baguettes, and a dish towel singed at one corner by the gas stove."
This passage exemplifies the perfection of the novel's title, which I didn't really understand when I started the book. It also illustrates the tension between the public and private, a theme that runs throughout the book, most strongly with Rebecca, but also with each character. This novel constantly answers the question of how the story behind the scenes compares to what people think is happening. In this sense, the novel is not as simple as it could appear. Quindlen's writing is lush, but there is depth to this seemingly simple story I quite appreciated. It was a fast read for me--I finished it the day I started it, but it was also a novel I savored. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Rebecca and the quirky characters she befriends upstate (plus the family and friends she's known before her sojourn.

Part of me loved this novel, and as I read I couldn't help but think I would love this novel even more if I read it later in life. I'm very much looking forward to my book club, which includes women of many ages, discussing this title next month. I'm curious if those closer to Rebecca's age than I am will indeed love this one more than I did.

Favorite passage: "It’s a funny thing, hope. It’s not like love, or fear, or hate. It’s a feeling you don’t really know you had until it’s gone."

The verdict:  Still Life with Bread Crumbs is a well-written, engaging piece of character-driven fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed the day I spent with this novel, but I ultimately wasn't wowed. As much as I liked the time I spent with novel, I was somewhat disappointed when I turned the last page--both that this reading experience had come to an end and that the end itself was rather lackluster. This novel is good, but I wished it would have been great.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 252 pages
Publication date: January 28, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Still Life with Bread Crumbs from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Anna Quindlen's website and like her on Facebook.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. I enjoyed reading your review. I enjoyed this novel. It is the first one I've read by this author.

  2. I've been curious about this one. I've read a couple books by the author and enjoyed them.

  3. Hmmmm, I'm intrigued! Also, didn't know the Bailey's is/was the Orange -- glad you linked it because I got worried there was a whole new prize I was unfamiliar with!

  4. I didn't love this one, but was still happy I read it. For me, her best was Lot's of Candles, Plenty of Cake, a book I so related to.


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