IMHO every novel that Anna Qundlen writes is a jewel, a distillation of exquisite language, offbeat point of view, and brilliant wit. I would describe Still Life with Breadcrumbs as a small jewel, narrower in scope than her earlier novels in both story line and characters, but still packing the punch of a rare diamond. Still Life is the story of a life traveling (it seems) in reverse, despite the fact that the heroine would describe herself as over-the-hill and past her prime, wondering what’s to become of her in her old age. A well-known and highly respected photographer, she’s been reduced to having to add background information to her press releases so that people will know who she once was.
We meet her when she is divorced, saddled with two aged and each-incompetent-in-their-own-way parents, worried about finances to the point that she is unable to afford to live in her own NY apartment and has chosen to lease a cottage in the upstate mountains to save money. There she meets characters any of us might cross paths with in a 7-11 or local diner and likely not notice. Quindlen does, and she paints them with pinpoint accuracy in all the shades of their humanity, both noble and flawed. The coffee shop owner who really wants to serve a true English tea, the parents who have each turned into themselves in their own way as they struggle with their final years, the roofer with a secret life. And the huge impact that just a little bit of insanity or alcoholism can have on a small town. It’s all here with Quindlen’s remarkable economy of style and in this case an unusual POV that hops easily from past to present to future and back, always taking you by surprise. Well-done! Highly recommended.