Tuesday, September 15, 2015

There had been bees in her brain, a whole hive, no honey

For the most part Just The Right Book has nailed sending me books I enjoyed* but perfection would be a lot to ask for. I was a little skeptical when I saw the cover for Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen and wasn't feeling any better when I read the summary, but you know what? Euphoria didn't seem like my thing and I enjoyed so HEY, let's give it a try. How bad could it be?

This was an early reaction to the book:
So yeah, not a great first reaction. But I was hopeful. Maybe it would get better. Maybe the main character has to be super annoying and say insufferable things only to later grow and change and get better.

Or she could keep being the same. That's an option too.

I admit, I can judge a book harshly if the character starts of doing or saying something obnoxious. Wait, that's not quite right. If the character starts doing or saying something obnoxious but being obnoxious is NOT the thing the author is going for. If the author means for the character to come off as obnoxious or dense or oblivious or whatever, we're good. But when the character says something like this

But for her family, which she had felt when she was a child hardly deserved the name, being composed of only a father, mother, and a single child, the trips were never pleasant.

Sorry, only children or couples without kids or single-parent households, YOU'RE NOT REALLY A FAMILY! I wonder what the optimal number of people is. Oh, and if you're wondering what trips were never pleasant, she's talking about her family taking vacations to places like "the shores of Long Island" (does not say, but implies the Hamptons) or "the occasional foray to Provence or Tuscany". If you're wondering if some terrible thing happened during these vacations, it boils down to her family didn't like nature that much. Her dad had allergies and her mom hated bugs, so they spent a lot of time not camping. THE HORRORS. No wonder she feels they were never really a family.

So here's the basic plot. Rebecca is a photographer. She was a successful photographer, so much so that she made a lot of money essentially off a single photograph, titular "Still Life with Bread Crumbs" which she took after one of her husband's impromptu dinner parties, that she had been living a pretty nice lift for awhile with a fancy Manhattan apartment** living off the residuals of this photo. She had some success with a follow up series, extreme closeups of her then-infant son, but not much since. She's divorced, her son is grown, and money is getting tight so she decides to rent out her NYC place and rent something smaller out in the country. She has an offer for a temporary teaching position down the road, but for her now her plan seems to be just spend less on rent. Which again, probably not the worst idea, but not a lot of "and HERE is how I'll improve my income".

While out there she meets a roofer name Jim Bates who takes care of a raccoon stuck in a trap in her attic and eventually helps with odd jobs around the cottage. There's a romance there, and it develops exactly as you'd assume it would (including a misunderstanding that could be cleared up in about 30 seconds) but it wasn't totally the focus of the story. At least not as much as I assumed it would be. Instead we get some flashbacks of Rebecca's life with her comically terrible husband or her talking about how mean her mom was before she was in a home (and was mean to other people) and in general Rebecca learning to find herself. There's a bit of a mystery with these crosses that show up in the woods that seem to be memorials, except it's not really a mystery because she doesn't to much with it. She sets it up, mentions it a few times and then brings us to the BIG REVEAL about what they are, except by that point they haven't really been a plot point so you're sort of like "Oh, right those."

Scanning through the reviews someone mentioned that the characters were either good and kind and wonderful people or they were ridiculously evil. No one seemed like an actual person, just the outline of one.

A few people have had good things to say about Quindlen so maybe this is just a misstep. Most of the negative reviews I saw on Goodreads seemed to indicate that they were expecting something else from her. The writing itself wasn't bad. It was just a boring and predictable story that made me eye roll a LOT.

GIF Rating

*Past successes: The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty, Euphoria by Lily King, Bird Box by Josh Malerman and The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion. They also just sent me Landline by Rainbow Rowell which is only not a success because I already own it. So I mean, they still nailed it.
**I was recently reading a piece about average home prices and if you're wondering, according to NYTimes the media cost for a an apartment in Manhattan is $980K. That's the median price. I realize fiction takes a lot of liberties with how much things cost (hello there, Monica & Rachel's apartment) but just to give you an idea how much money she's used to operating on, she had a fancy Manhattan apartment in a world where $1MM is the median price.

Title quote from page 173

Quindlen, Anna. Still Life with Bread Crumbs. Random House, 2014.