A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Anna Quindlen’s columns used to be reprinted in my local newspaper each week and I always enjoyed them, so when she broadened out into the longer forms of novels and memoirs, I was very pleased and have read nearly all of them. Still Life… is her latest, and I think, one of her best.
Rebecca Winter is a middle-aged woman who was once a famous photographer. In fact, the title of the book is from one of her photos which became ubiquitous in popular culture, one of many she took as a stay at home mom when her son was a toddler. That was many years ago though. On a whim, Rebecca decides to rent a ramshackle cabin in a rural area, far from her usual life in New York City. There, she forms unlikely friendships with residents of the tiny town, such as Sarah, who runs the coffee shop, while dreaming of a perfect English tea room and Jim Bates, the roofer who tracks endangered raptors on his weekends off.
As Rebecca hikes around the area, she finds small white crosses stuck into the ground, accompanied by a photo, a yearbook or another small item. Her photos of them, with their simplicity and mystery, soon inspires her work in a way that she hasn’t felt for a long time. How that affects her life and what they mean ripples out through the rest of the story, which unfolds in unexpected ways.
Quindlen always writes in an introspective way with great insight, so we really get to know what makes her characters tick. She describes things in the same way as certain Chinese painters use their brushstrokes, indicating details with few words, but each one counts. The characters are likable, but flawed people and sometimes we wish they made other decisions.
In this novel, the author sometimes fast forwards about a person or place and concludes her digressions with “>…but that was much later…”. I really liked this habit, which she does not overdo, but uses just enough that our inherent questions about the future are answered.
Aside from Quindlen’s style, which I’ve always been fond of, I liked the messages about art, feminism and friendship that were woven through the book, it added even more layers to the story. Readers often say they wish a book went on much longer and though it’s a cliche, that’s exactly how I felt as I reached the end of this one.
Random House 2014 252 pp. ISBN-13: 978-1400065752 available in traditional and ebook formats