Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Anna Quindlen Spins A Tale Of Middle-Aged Reinvention

Rebecca Winter is at a crossroads. The famous photographer had been living off of sales of one particular photograph for years. When the money stream starts to dry up, she reluctantly decides to rent out her Manhattan apartment and move to a small, rural town far from her seemingly fabulous New York life. It is here that she tries to map out her next chapter. No longer married, no longer needed as much by her grown son, no longer as successful as she used to be.

That's where we meet the main character in Anna Quindlen's newest novel, Still Life with Bread Crumbs.

Quindlen tells NPR's Rachel Martin, "I'm really intrigued by the idea that we now live long enough to get to reinvent, rediscover ourselves over and over again, and that's definitely what's happening to Rebecca."

Interview Highlights

On why Rebecca leaves New York for the country

She's, as she keeps saying, a very intuitive photographer, and her wellspring of inspiration has dried up just a little bit in part because her earlier photographs were so popular in ways that she can't quite apprehend and couldn't have predicted. And so she's looking for new work, but frankly she's also in money trouble.

As someone said to me, "You know, you've really tapped the great taboo here," and I thought they meant sex, and in fact they meant money, or not having enough of it. And so one of the things that she's done is to leave New York — which is so fabulously expensive — behind to try and recoup financially in this town. It's not like she's dying to be there; it's in some ways a kind of a last resort for her.

On the love story at the heart of the book

Jim Bates is a roofer who comes to check out what someone calls "a critter in the crawl space." And, little by little, the two of them form a bond, not because they're the least bit alike, because they're not — they come from very different places; but because he needs somebody to take pictures and she needs work.

Anna Quindlen is a former <em>New York Times</em> columnist. Her other books include <em>Lots Of Candles, Plenty Of Cake</em> and <em>Every Last One</em>.
Maria Krovatin / Courtesy of Random House
Courtesy of Random House
Anna Quindlen is a former New York Times columnist. Her other books include Lots Of Candles, Plenty Of Cake and Every Last One.

And it's such a cliché, but the guy's salt of the earth. The guy's the kind of guy who doesn't let you make nasty remarks about somebody he likes, you know, who will take care of people who need taking care of. And she's never quite encountered anyone like him before.

On taste and art

That's the dangerous game of producing art; that, especially in this information age, there's a sense that taste is not what you bring to the table, taste is what other people tell you it is, whether they're critics or sales figures or the like. And I think that when you produce any kind of art, there has to be that moment when you know that it's good.

On staying down to earth

One of my favorite moments in the novel is when Rebecca's getting out of a car and she says something about how she used to be Rebecca Winter, and [her son] Ben says to her, "You'll always be the Rebecca Winter." And what he means is that for him, and in an enduring way through her work, she's always going to be something special.

But I think it's a mistake to get too attached to that kind of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon version of yourself, because it estranges you from other people. I mean, I've had the frequent experience of introducing myself to people who say, "Great, nice to meet you." And then every once in a while I introduce myself to someone and they get this look on their face. My kids call it "the Anna Quindlen look" and it means that they've read the work and they've liked it and they are shocked that it's embodied in a perfectly ordinary person. And I think the perfectly ordinary person thing is the thing that you always have to keep a hold of.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

NPR Staff
Become a sustaining member for as low as $5/month
Make an annual or one-time donation to support MTPR
Pay an existing pledge or update your payment information