It's richly satisfying, this book I'm reading. It's the kind of novel that scratches at your heart and makes you freshly reflective about life and its possibilities.
"Some things have to come when you are ready for them," reads one sentence in "Still Life with Breadcrumbs" by Anna Quindlen. Yes, they do.
This author of seven books and a multitude of essays is a former New York Times columnist. I have followed her writing over the years, and it has often taken me places I might not have gone otherwise. Quindlen is my age peer — well, she's a little younger actually, and the same age as the main character in this book. One reviewer called the book "a tale of middle-age reinvention." I totally resonate with the idea that you can reinvent yourself after age 60.
The title of Quindlen's most recent novel calls to mind another book about reflective reinvention, "Still Life with Woodpecker." That author, Tom Robbins, also imprinted my thinking decades ago with phrases like, "Who knows how to make love stay?" and "It's never too late to have a happy childhood."
But I digress. Let's ponder this most recent "Still Life" book, which I hope you will take on your summer vacation and read lovingly, preferably while perched on a sun-warmed rock at the edge of a hiking trail after an early-morning trek, camera at the ready.
The main character in this book is described as "strong of body and mind, much less of heart and bank account" and "a woman who rarely wept although she would have been better for it."
The style of writing is different than the author's previous work, and her observations about self and situation move fluidly back and forth in time in a different fashion than so many authors today who label a chapter with a date and the next chapter with another date — a decade earlier. Or later. I find that particular technique sometimes interesting but usually frustrating — interruptive. "Still Life with Breadcrumbs" has an imbedded flow, and it also has well-honed humor and spontaneity. As a book about life, it's light and heavy all at once.
"Comfort food" is what one reviewer labeled the book, but that does not do it justice. This novel makes the case for taking control of your life. And that's not always comfortable. The 60-year-old, urban-dwelling main character (once a widely popular, now largely forgotten photographer) is financially bereft, in large part because she is subsidizing her mother's nursing home care as well as her father's independent living situation. Those would be the parents who had separate bedrooms for most of their married life and no longer spoke. And then there's the money directed toward her sporadically employed son. No wonder she goes to live in the woods in near poverty for a year. She had "an odd sense she was missing something, seeing the world flat when everything was rounded."
By the way, Quindlen has also written "How Reading Changed My Life." Indeed, it can.
Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@hmj.com.