Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Review: A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

When you look at a painting, do you ever wonder what the greater story outside of the painting is? Who are the people in the confines of the frame? What kind of life do they lead? Obviously the painting itself often gives the viewer clues but what else are we not told? Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth is certainly a painting that invites further speculation, especially once the viewer knows that there was in fact a real life Christina, Christina Olson, who inspired the painting. Christina Baker Kline has taken Wyeth's Christina and using the available historical information imagined a whole life for Wyeth's middle aged, spinster, Maine neighbor in her latest novel, A Piece of the World.

Christina Olson lives with her younger brother Alvaro on the family farm in a large house, once proud now shabby and dilapidated, when Andrew Wyeth strides into her life. Brought to visit by family friend Betsy, who will shortly become his wife, the young painter with the famous father is enchanted by the taciturn, private siblings and their home, eventually using a room in the farmhouse as a studio and painting pictures of both Christina and Al. But the book is not about Wyeth; rather it is about the inspiration for what is arguably his most famous work, so in parallel with the time leading up to his painting Christina's World, the story moves backwards in time to Christina's life growing up, refusing to be the object of pity because of her increasing disability, determined to live life without concessions, and imagining a wider world and more opportunities for herself than are available in her small Maine town. It takes her through the disappointments of her life and draws her as a proud, stubborn, and prickly woman. She and her quiet brother live a hard and lonely life and if that and her increasing disability (perhaps as a result of polio when she was young or perhaps because of the neuropathology of C-M-T disease) toughens her and makes her unforgiving and cantankerous, it is perhaps understandable.

Baker Kline has done a marvelous job drawing Christina and the world she lived in. The novel is very much character driven and Christina is not always a likable character. She is flinty, frustrated, and selfish but she's also loyal, smart, and fully realized in these pages. She is betrayed over and over again and just as when she physically trips, she endures the pain, picks herself up, and dusts herself off, refusing to let any one thing level her. The novel has a somber tone throughout most of its pages. The reality of the woman behind the painting was so circumscribed by her disability while her yearning knew no bounds and that bleak and unfulfilled feeling comes through in both the novel and the painting. But the novel is also one of friendship and the deliberate choice to allow people in, as was the case with the Olsons and Wyeth. This isn't a splashy book; it's quiet and deliberate, engrossing in its glimpse into the story behind the picture.

For more information about Christina Baker Kline and the book, check out her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for inspiring me to pull this off my shelf sooner rather than later.

1 comment:

  1. I like that you describe this book as quiet and deliberate, because those are words that come to mind when I look at this painting.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!


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