A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline
When I was a child, I used to spend hours staring at this painting. My parents had a print hanging in our upstairs hallway across from the entrance of my bedroom. I would often stop and spend several minutes each day gazing up at it wondering why my mother was sitting in an image on the wall. For the longest time, I thought the woman in the painting was either my mother or grandmother. I don’t think I ever asked my parents why my mother was in a painting, but I was convinced that hanging in front of me was proof of a mysterious family secret (I was really into Nancy Drew books at the time).
Christina Baker Kline’s new book, A Piece of the World, is a fictionalized account of the woman behind Andrew Wyeth’s paining. Reading the novel brought back a flood of memories. I hadn’t thought about that painting in over 20 years. A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating: 4 stars
Find it/buy it here: A Piece of the World
When I say I hadn’t thought about the painting in years, I also never really viewed it as a painting. To me it had always been a photo of my mother or grandmother. A Piece of the World digs into the backstory of the painting’s subject, Christina. Turns out that Christina’s story is quite different from my mother’s story. Christina suffers from a degenerative disease that impacts her mobility and over the course of her life she becomes progressively less mobile.
The novel is very slow moving and perfectly captures the stasis of the protagonist’s life. Christina is stubbornly independent, to the point that her need for independence alienates others who try to support her. She’s a strong and intelligent woman, but one who is also caught up in life circumstances that keep her trapped on her family farm. Kline brings the woman behind the painting to life.
I read the book for my book club and initially we were pretty split between those of us who liked it and those who were bored by the book. Many of my friends felt frustrated by what they saw as Christina’s rigidity and rejection of others around her. In contrast, I felt great empathy for Christina. She was an intelligent and driven woman born in 1893, a time when opportunities for women of her intelligence were limited. Her disease virtually ensured that she would become a spinster despite her longing for intimate connection. Those around her saw her someone to be pitied. It took an artist, Wyeth, to see and perfectly portray both the strength and conflict within Christina.
I very much enjoyed the novel. Interestingly Christina, as portrayed by Kline, reminded me in many ways, of my mother. My mother (who reads this blog, hi mom) does not suffer from a progressive disease nor is she as rigid as Christina (and she certainly would not have acted in the same way with respect to her brother). But both my mother and Christina value independence and self-reliance in ways that sometimes can be frustrating to those who love them and both women are intelligent and strong.
I highly recommend this novel for those who are interested in the painting and those who like character-driven stories. I would like to warn potential readers that not much happens in the way of plot. This isn’t a fast paced, action driven novel. It’s a character study and an exploration of rural America in the early 1900s. Finally, it’s a great book club book and in fact several of my friend who disliked the book found themselves appreciating it more after our discussion. We had a great discussion about the book and I think it would be one that raises many interesting discussion points.
Want to try the book for yourself? You can find a copy here: A Piece of the World
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