Prather’s Pick: ‘Still Life with Bread Crumbs’ captivating
May 6, 2014
Rebecca Winter, the leading character of this week's novel, is a well-known photographer; in fact, she's the youngest person ever to win the Bradley Prize. Rebecca became famous for a poster, "Still Life with Bread Crumbs," thus the title of the novel.
"Still Life with Bread Crumbs" was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anna Quindlen. The novel, with a 2014 copyright, was published by Random House.
For years, Rebecca has received income from the reproductions of the poster and her Kitchen Counter series. The reproductions have been put on magazine covers, postcards and T-shirts. Besides that, Rebecca is considered a heroine representing women and women's work.
Rebecca's Baby Boy reproductions (photographs of her baby son Ben) followed the kitchen successes. They have been a hit, too. Her works have sold and sold, providing a steady income.
Rebecca was 36 when she produced all of the well-known photographs. Now, she's 60 years old. Ben is grown, and Rebecca is divorced. For a few years now, the sales of her products have been declining. Little money is coming in, but the expenses have been increasing. Furthermore, Rebecca has not been able to produce work as she did previously.
Rebecca has to pay for her mother's nursing home, help out with her father's rent and provide some money for Ben when he needs it, and there are all kinds of insurance policies. Rebecca has a retirement fund, too, and living expenses. So one day when Rebecca finds a "For Rent" ad on an index card tacked to a bulletin board, she decides to lease her lavish New York City apartment to renters and move to the "Charming Country Cottage."
Rebecca reasons that by leasing out her apartment, she may have enough money to pay all of her bills. She plans to spend time taking photographs in an effort to turn things around.
As the novel opens, Rebecca is asleep in the cottage. She awakens to the sound of a gunshot, or what she thinks to be a gunshot. Then she remembers the previous day when she had town resident Jim Bates check out her attic. (Jim is not an exterminator, but he offers to check it out and repair the crawl space if there is an animal in her attic. Jim is a roofer.) That's how Rebecca meets Jim Bates, and the gunshot sound is a live trap being moved around by a raccoon.
Rebecca meets Sarah Ashley, owner of Tea for Two (or More), when she goes into the small town. Besides enjoying Sarah's scones, Rebecca uses the coffee house's Internet, since the cottage doesn't have access. Eventually, she meets Tad, a clown.
Determined to shoot photographs that might bring in some income, Rebecca hikes in the woods around the cottage. She photographs objects in nature such as a dry wall of stone and a wasp's nest, but when the film is developed, the prints aren't as promising as she'd hoped. Then one hot July day, she finds a cross in a place where the plants are thinned out. At the base of the 3-foot cross, there's a trophy with a marble base and a girl atop. The girl holds a ball. Rebecca photographs the cross and leaves it there.
A little later Jim Bates also comes upon the cross. He mutters to himself and gathers up the cross and trophy and leaves. Neither Rebecca nor Jim mentions the cross. In days to come, however, Rebecca finds more crosses.
There is so much to this book. Sometimes, I enjoy a book so much that I read it while I'm waiting for supper to cook, while I wait for a water tank to fill and when I need to take a break from writing projects. This is such a book. I read and read until I finished the book — quickly — and wished I could read more.
The novel costs $26 in hardcover, or you can find it at the Moffat County Library with the new books.
Quindlen has written six more novels, a memoir and "A Short Guide to a Happy Life." She received a Pulitzer Prize while working as a columnist for The New York Times.