Reviews: March/April 2017

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A Piece of the World
Christina Baker Kline ’86
William Morrow, $27.99
Reviewed by Sylvia Brownrigg ’86

Pages for Her, the latest novel by Sylvia Brownrigg ’86, will be published in the summer.

Christina Baker Kline’s bestselling novel, Orphan Train, had at its heart a historic story of displacement: the widespread dispatching of children from the East Coast for adoption in the Midwest. Her new novel is an evocative account of spending a lifetime in one place.

A Piece of the World is a rich imagining of Christina Olson, the woman known to us as the subject of Andrew Wyeth’s iconic 1948 painting, Christina’s World: an enigmatic, awkward figure on the ground, facing a weathered grey house at the top of a sloping field.

After a brief prologue about that painting, the novel opens in 1939, when the unmarried, middle-aged Christina, living with her brother on their family’s centuries-old farm in Cushing, Maine, is visited by a younger neighbor and her friend, Andy. Andy’s swift sketch establishes his artistry and his fascination with the house, which “seems rooted in the earth.” So begins a relationship of years, in which Andrew Wyeth created a studio in the Olsons’ farmhouse, sketching and painting its people, its objects, and its landscape, over and over.

Kline artfully interweaves Andy’s encounters with Christina with her memories of growing into adulthood. Afflicted by a mysterious degenerative illness, as a child she frequently tripped and fell, and by middle age often got around by crawling; she was unwilling to use a wheelchair. Kline is sympathetic but unsentimental about this hardship, and captures the grueling demands of a woman’s life on the farm as well as Maine’s brutal winters and splendid summers. Kline’s ultimate goal is to do for Christina in fiction what Wyeth did in painting: to construct the texture of Christina’s life, her rootedness in that farm and in the ghost-filled house of her family.