Sunday, July 9, 2017

Staff Review: A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline
Christina Baker Kline, author of the runaway bestseller Orphan Train, is back with a fine new novel, A Piece of the World. The impetus for this new work was Kline's interest in painter Andrew Wyeth's relationship with a considerably older woman, a native Mainer named Anna Christina Olson. Christina, as she was known, is the subject of Wyeth's most famous painting, 1948's Christina's World, and in her new novel, Kline brings the enigmatic Christina to life.

She does a bang-up job of it too, alternating chapters that propel us through Christina's young adulthood with chapters narrating her initial introduction to Wyeth (when she is 46 and he just 22) and their ensuing friendship. At age 46, Christina's life is solitary and hard. She lives without electricity or running water and has suffered since childhood from an undiagnosed condition that eventually reduces her to crawling on her arms, dragging her legs behind her.

Crushed by a huge romantic disappointment in her youth, Christina spends the bulk of her days caring for her crumbling old farmhouse and her brother Alvaro, who works their farm. Their days are not often visited by joy. Enter the energetic and idealistic Andy Wyeth, who is artistically intrigued by the Olson house, its occupants, and the surrounding landscape. Soon he is painting there every day, which he continues to do for the next thirty years, often painting Christina and Alvaro. Not included in the book but adding to its poignancy is the fact that upon his death at age 91, the famous and wealthy Andrew Wyeth, happily married with his own large family, chose to be buried beside Christina and Alvaro in their humble family plot.

Kline paints her characters with the same magical precision Wyeth's paintings are known for. She paints the landscape uncommonly well too, vividly evoking the sometimes-harsh, always beautiful Maine coast. Most touching of all, Kline imbues the physically disabled Christina with dignity and grace, the very qualities Wyeth ascribes to the awkward woman in his paintings. Christina's life was difficult, her days filled with pain, but she enjoyed 30 years of friendship with a remarkable man and was immortalized in one of the world's most famous works of art.

~Ann, Adult Services

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