“Still Life with Bread Crumbs,” by Anna Quindlen, Random House, NY 252 pages, $26.
Some books are so good you want to read them more than once, and this is one of them. The story is good, and each chapter leaves the reader wanting to go on to the next without delay, to see how things work out.
But the real reason this book is so good is that the author has a graceful and easy-to-follow style that carries meaning and emotion without ever being burdensome or excessively complex. Quindlen’s prose is like an easy conversation with a friend.
Rebecca Winter is a 60-year-old professional photographer, presumably near the end of a successful career, with two published books of photographs.
She meets a roofer named Jim Bates, 15 years her junior, and they find each other agreeable company and, finally, more than that. Each had been married before, and Rebecca had a son, Ben, by her former husband, a womanizer who finally abandoned them.
The developing affection the principal characters feel for each other is quietly and effectively told by this talented author, and we never doubt that their relationship would be successful and enduring.
We meet Rebecca’s parents in a nursing home and find out, in the fullness of time, what becomes of them.
And we learn about Benjamin Freeman Symington, Rebecca’s son. The author blends their stories into a compelling account, giving full range to her imagination and obviously thorough knowledge of her characters as they developed in her mind.
The wonder of really good novelists is that they are able to invent convincing reality out of their life’s experiences and their fertile imagination.
By the time the reader is deep into this book, the fates of the characters have become almost as important to the reader as what happens in the real world.
A side story involves Rebecca’s finding of several wooden crosses, made subjects of some of her famous photographs. Near the end, we find who put them there and how that person’s story ended.
We learn about the relationship between Rebecca and her agent, Page Whittington, and several other memorable characters participate in Rebecca and Jim’s story.
This is a book you will lend to friends without remorse.
Melvyn Schreiber is a physician at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Melvyn Schreiber’s essays are now available as a paperback book (without the book reviews and opera reviews). If you want one, send $15 to him at 12 E. Dansby, Galveston, TX 77551, and he will mail a copy to you. It’s not heavy enough to press your trousers with, but it may please you in other ways.