A photographer retreats to a rustic cottage, where she confronts aging and flagging career prospects.
Rebecca Winter is known for her Kitchen Counter series, black-and-white photographs capturing domestic minutia, taken as her marriage to a philandering Englishman is foundering on the shoals of mistaken assumptions. But, as her laconic and un-nurturing agent, TG, never fails to remind her, what has she done lately? Her photo royalties are in precipitous decline. Divorced, living in a high-priced Manhattan apartment, Rebecca, 60, finds herself unmoored. Her filmmaker son, Ben, still requires checks from Mom. Her mother, Bebe, is in the Jewish Home for the Aged and Infirm, where she spends her days playing piano pieces on any available surface, except an actual piano. Since the collapse of the family business, Rebecca has supported both her parents and now pays Bebe’s nursing home bills. She figures that it will be cheaper to sublet her apartment and rent a ramshackle woodland cabin upstate than to continue to ape the NYC lifestyle of her formerly successful self. She meets the usual eccentrics who people so many fictional small towns, although in Quindlen’s hands, these archetypes are convincingly corporeal. Sarah runs the English-themed Tea for Two cafe, not exactly to the taste of most locals. Until Rebecca came to town, Sarah’s only regular was Tad, ex–boy soprano, now working clown. Sarah’s ne’er-do-well husband, Kevin, sells Rebecca subpar firewood and is admonished by Jim, an upstanding local hero. After helping Rebecca remove a marauding raccoon, Jim helps her find work photographing wild birds. Like Rebecca, Jim is divorced and has onerous family responsibilities, in his case, his bipolar sister who requires constant surveillance. As Rebecca interacts with these townsfolk—and embarks on a new photo series—she begins to understand how provisional her former life—and self—really was.
Occasionally profound, always engaging, but marred by a formulaic resolution in which rewards and punishments are meted out according to who ranks highest on the niceness scale.