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This book got an unqualified rave in the New York Times Book Review. I was led to expect a wry, tough-minded, light-hearted, clear-eyed look at the plight of a single, sixty-year-old artist and her world.
Not so! Stuffed with clunky stereotypes, improbable coincidences and dubious epiphanies, this book gives "chick lit" its reputation for triviality. Our heroine, Rebecca, is tall and effortlessly slender, like any romance novel heroine, except much more tastefully dressed -- black everything, straight un-dyed hair and no makeup, which I suppose is meant to signal her stature as a serious artist. (This is the first wrong note: If Nora Ephron taught us anything, it's that sixty for women is nothing if not relentless grooming). It has been twenty years since her divorce, but she chews over this old failure endlessly, with no apparent insight: her ex-husband is portrayed in terms so exclusively negative I half-expected him to start twirling a pair of mustachios. The village in which she finds herself has an equally manichean populace: one is either good and simple (the baker) or cruel and incompetent (the baker's husband). Our heroine's love interest is a rough-hewn, straight-talking man's man, who spends an awful lot of time setting a good example and threatening the folks who won't follow it. Lest you excuse him as just the male counterpart of Rebecca, acquiring the habit of warning kids off his lawn, he's much much younger than she. And an environmentalist. And, true to the romance genre, he has a Secret Sorrow, which provides the pivot on which this creaky tale balances. So careless is the plot that at one point I thought perhaps Rebecca was going to be revealed, thrillingly, as not an artist, but a dimwit: she writes a crucial letter to her love, but never sends it, because she does not know his address. Though she HAS been to his house, which is just down the road. And he's been faithfully plowing her drive all winter.
The author has some good descriptions of the domestic woes of a young mother, and has a sharp eye for the customs and citizens of high culture: I found myself wishing Rebecca would stay in this world and fight for her work. It would have been a truer, and harder-won, victory. But instead, I think we can confidently expect a middling Hollywood movie, starring Diane Lane or Julianna Margulies, with whoever is taking over Viggo Mortensen's roles as the younger hunk.
I now picture the NYT reviewer: well-educated, well-connected, in head-to-toe Eileen Fisher, who would never be caught with anything like Fabio on the cover of a book she reads, but who nonetheless yearns for Romance. The cover is completely respectable -- you can carry it without shame on the subway -- but the goods within are shoddy indeed.
35 of 37 people found this review helpful
Still Life with Bread Crumbs has been called the literary equivalent of comfort food, but it just made me feel uncomfortable. I really wanted to like this, since it is authored by Anna Quindlen and the premise sounded somewhat interesting; after the story devolved into a vaguely creepy May-December romance lacking Quindlen's usual gifted writing I was sadly disappointed. I had hoped for a book with more than a predictable plot, one-dimensional characters, and rambling writing, but when I came to the list of words that Rebecca's dog could understand and read the phrase "But that was later" for what seemed like the fiftieth time, I knew I wasn't going to find the depth and exceptional writing I was looking for in Still Life with Bread Crumbs. I've read and really enjoyed several of Quindlen's previous novels and essays, but I'm afraid I may pass on her future books.
20 of 22 people found this review helpful