A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

A Piece of the World is the latest offering from Christina Baker Kline, of Orphan Train fame. I wasn’t a fan of Orphan Train, but this one was recommended to me by my mom, so I couldn’t show up to Mother’s Day without having read it. And I’m glad I did.

The novel is a fictional memoir of Christina Olson, the model for Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting Christina’s World. Christina, we find out, has an unnamed neurological disorder that gradually robs her of her mobility, eventually forcing her to crawl to get anywhere–hence the twisted limbs and strange pose evident in the painting. This handicap, as well as a deep sense of duty, reduce Christina’s life to the very circumscribed world of her family farm in rural Maine.

As suits such a tightly bounded existence, the narrative is spare and the plot simple. A Piece of the World is not so much a story as a long meditation on New England virtues: individualism, stoicism, resilience, duty. Other guiding lights of New Englandism predictably appear for reinforcement: Christina admires both the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Edith Wharton’s novel Ethan Frome, and draws strength from her teacher’s assertion that “your mind will be your comfort”. When Andrew Wyeth comes into her life, as the new husband of a friend, his art describes and defines Christina’s life yet again.

When I finished the book, I felt strangely comforted. There is no “happy” ending, but a kind of contentment suffuses the end of Christina’s memoir. To evoke this kind of subtle feeling in the reader is, I believe, the mark of a writer who knows her craft. Which makes it all the more unbelievable to me that she is the same woman who wrote that schlocky mess Orphan Train. Maybe I should revisit it and try again to see its merits…

Located in Adult Fiction (FIC KLINE)

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