When I was in 3rd and 4th grade my Mom was one of a group of mothers who came to our school and presented great works of art–what we would call today an “enrichment program.” They were The Picture Ladies. Two of those pictures became life-long favorites of mine. The first was, Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of LeGrand Jatte and the other was Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth.
So, when I saw Christina Baker Kline’s new novel, A Piece of the World, on my library’s book club shelf, I grabbed it. I knew from the cover it was about the painting in some way.
“The older I get, the more I believe that the greatest kindness is acceptance.”
Christian Olson and her brother live on their family’s old homestead in Maine. Christian, now in old age, meets Andy Wyeth a painter who befriends a friend of hers. With only limited use of her legs–and most of that even gone with age, Christina becomes a model for what will become Andy’s greatest painting.
“It’s painful to hold out hope for the things that once brought you joy. You ahve to find ways to make yourself forget.”
[Christina on her brother, Al] (p. 219)
She has visible demons: her nearly useless legs. She also has invisible ones–her descent from a judge in the Salem Witch Trials, her ties to author Nathaniel Hawthorne and her refusal of medical treatment in childhood. Then, too, there is her father’s ending her education and assuming she’ll keep the family and the house going.
Andy too has his demons–notably following his father as an artist and as a man. Their relationship is complicated by the circumstances of his father’s untimely death.
“I’m angry at losing him, but I’m also angry at the waste….The time wasted, the energy squandered on meaningless possessions, the compromises…I don’t want to make the same mistakes.“
[Andy] (p. 194)
The book captures the salt air-dried atmosphere of the painting to perfection. I felt I knew Christina pretty well by the end. Andy was a bit more elusive, but a typical artist nonetheless. You can’t pin him down.
I enjoyed the look at Christiana’s life thru the years. I had always envisioned her as a girl though–it was fascinating to learn she was an elderly woman who was respected and accepted by the artist and his wife.
I felt the joy and sadness of Christina’s life as though she was my own relative or dear friend. I felt Andy had a right to be conflicted. That’s how well-told the story was.
I really don’t have any complaints. There were a few places where I wanted more to the story but it is a sparse book to go with a sparse life, sparse region and sparse, mysterious painting.
I’m not sure why the Bible was always in lowercase letters. Perhaps that was a style-sheet change at the publisher. Overall the book was respectful to religion. One busy-body got what she deserved, but that was it.
With two excellent books, this one and Orphan Train (now in a young person’s edition–I love that!) that I’ve enjoyed, Christian Baker Kline is an author whose future books I will eagerly await. I hope to read her past books as well.
A Piece of the World by Chrsitina Baker Klein
Photo credit: The Farnsworth Museum/Olson House