New York Times best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anna Quindlen is back in the public eye with her seventh novel, “Still Life With Bread Crumbs” (Random House, $26, 272 pages). It’s a comfortable love story with a happy ending, something of a first in Quindlen’s oeuvre.
If the story were a fabric, it would be flannel. Manhattan photographer and feminist Rebecca Winter is 60, with a career and a bank balance on the wane. To save money and regroup, she subleases her apartment and moves sight-unseen into a ramshackle cottage in rural upstate New York. There, she meets a roofer named Jim Bates, whose straightforward view of the world captivates the newcomer from the big city. Between her relationship with him and a mysterious discovery she makes in the woods, her career is refreshed and her life pirouettes onto another plane.
Twenty five or so years ago, as a columnist for The New York Times, Quindlen practically invented the “mommy/family/career woman” genre with her columns “Public & Private” and “Life in the 30s,” and later in Newsweek magazine with “The Last Word.” They were unprecedented self-examinations of her own life and times, which reflected those of her “everyday women” readers and their issues. Along the way, it’s been said of her that she “changed the face of journalism for women columnists.”
Among her best-known works is the memoir “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake,” and the novels “One True Thing” and “Object Lessons.” Her self-help book “A Short Guide to a Happy Life” has sold more than a million copies.
Quindlen lives in New York City with her attorney husband; they have three adult children. Visit her at www.annaquindlen.com.
Because of her demanding schedule, Quindlen does interviews only by email.
What vital parts of Anna Quindlen are we seeing in the character of Rebecca Winter?
Rebecca is 60, and I will be 62 this summer. Rebecca lives in New York City, as do I, and has a sojourn in the country, as do I, most weekends and all summer long. But Rebecca is invented and I am real. At least most of the time.
Are you, like her, at a stage of reinvention?
I got the jump on reinvention some time ago, actually. I reinvented myself as a mother in my 30s and as a novelist in my 40s. But I never say never. I think one of the most wonderful things about how much longer we all live now is that people feel free to mix it up, to have a third or fourth act in life.
Some dreams, however, have died. My Plan B was to be a doctor, but somehow I can’t see myself in med school in my 70s, even if a med school would take me.
In last year’s “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake,” you reflected on your life “at midpoint.” Though “Bread Crumbs” is somewhat philosophical in that vein, on its face it’s a love story between a sophisticated woman and a blue-collar man.
That depends on your definition of sophistication. If sophistication means understanding how the world works, you could argue that Jim Bates, roofer, is more sophisticated than Rebecca Winter, photographer. One of the things the novel explores is how the world rates people, and how dangerous it is to take that rating at face value.
Actually, it’s about face value in general, and how one woman learns that what you see (through a camera lens) is not necessarily what is really there. I’m always a bit obsessed with the disconnect between appearance and reality.
In your collected newspaper and magazine columns (“Loud and Clear,” “Living Out Loud”), and in your fiction, one recurring theme is how women can find happiness and fulfillment. What are your sources for those?
My greatest sources of happiness and fulfillment have names: (Our children) Quin, Chris and Maria. Nothing and no one better. I also love to read and to watch TV while needlepointing. For a kid who read the Sherlock Holmes books so many times the bindings started to unravel, the combination of “Sherlock” and “Elementary” makes me feel as though the planets have aligned.
What’s happening in your life these days?
I’m going on book tour, so I may well be power-walking at 6 a.m. through a town near you. Also, some hotel chefs will be making me breakfast almost every day, which is a pretty great deal.
Do you have a book in progress?
I’m working on a new novel, but I’m in that smushy stage in which I know the characters but am a little clueless on the dominant themes. So I can’t be very illuminating about it at this point.
How about leaving us with a Quindlen-esque “thought for the day.”
(This is from writer) Henry James: “Three things in human life are important: The first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
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