“Still Life With Bread Crumbs” by Anna Quindlen is about photographer Rebecca Winter – “the artist formerly known as Rebecca Winter,” a “prisoner in the amber of her own past,” whose greatest successes occurred when she was in her 30s and still married to her British academic husband. Her work has become less popular, she is selling less and less, and now at 60, she finds herself divorced and her bank account dwindling.
Rebecca’s most lauded work was her “Kitchen Counter Series,” the byproduct of dinner guests brought home without notice by her husband, who expected a delicious homemade dinner, which she managed to provide. When guests had left, and her husband gone to bed, leaving her to clean up, Rebecca looked at the huge mess, sighed and brought out her camera. The result was a sensational series of black and white photos portraying a woman’s life. One photograph, “Still Life with Bread Crumbs,” launched her career. Nothing she did after received as much notice, and now, decades later, she is mostly forgotten. Now, too, Rebecca – an only child – is faced with the physical and financial responsibility for her elderly parents and her struggling filmmaker son, Ben.
She sublets her Manhattan apartment for an income she desperately needs and moves to a dilapidated cottage in upstate New York. In this cottage, with no light, no heat and a raccoon in the roofing, her adventures begin. Rebecca contacts Jim Bates, a young local roofer, to remove the raccoon, thereby making a connection that will change her life. She makes friends with Sarah, owner of a bakery and tea house, and Tad, an aspiring opera singer, among others. Though at first she finds it unnerving, Rebecca begins to learn to live with calm and quiet, and slowly begins to emerge as a new woman.
Rebecca accepts a part-time job with a wildlife organization photographing and tracking eagles. Now observing new surroundings and photographing new subjects, she makes a discovery in the woods that could restart her career – and reveals to her the richness of her life’s journey.