STILL LIFE WITH BREAD CRUMBS by Anna Quindlen (Random House), 252 pages, $30 cloth. Rating: NNN
Before you cringe at yet another novel about a mid-life crisis, take into account that this one is actually something rarer - a story about a woman sorting herself out at 60.
Rebecca Winter was wildly famous in the 80s and 90s, a photographer who gave new weight to women's experience, especially in the work Still Life With Bread Crumbs - later an iconic poster - a photo of her post-dinner-party kitchen. Domesticity raised to the level of artistry gave her a reputation and a ton of money.
But that's over now. She hasn't had a successful show in years, and her agent isn't helping. Having been dumped by her prof husband for a trophy wife, she decides to sublet her fabulous New York apartment and rent a dilapidated country cottage an hour out of the city.
There, loneliness leads her to assess her life - and her art - with fresh eyes. Suddenly she's connecting with down-to-earth townspeople like Sarah, who owns the local café, and Tad, a professional clown. And when she starts getting close to Jim, the roofer, she can hardly recognize herself.
Quindlen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author who herself was influential in the battle to get major media outlets to take women's everyday lives seriously, creates a terrific character in Rebecca. And buried in here is a serious consideration of the ethics of photography. Do you just shoot and thank the gods, or consider the provenance of your subject matter?
But even with a touching funeral sequence, the story is almost too gentle. Stuff happens and Quindlen definitely knows how to keep the pages turning. But she seems not to want things to get emotionally messy, so Still Life With Bread Crumbs never totally grabs you.