After reading Christina Baker Kline’s wonderful book Orphan Train last year, I knew I had to read her newest book, A Piece of the World, based on a woman named Christina who was supposedly a muse of Andrew Wyeth’s and the subject in his painting Christina’s World (pictured above).
Knowing little about art except for my visits to museums and the course I took in college we lovingly called “Art in the Dark” where we looked at famous works of art in a lecture hall, yes, in the dark, I was eager to learn more about this subject. Of all the skills I wish I had, being able to paint or draw would be on the list. It’s such an incredible way to express your creativity. Additionally, as I draw inspiration for my own novels from people I have met along the way in my life, a muse is someone who can’t be neglected, and so I suggested Kline’s novel as our book club book.
Kline’s ability to tell a story about a woman that evokes feelings of empathy, sympathy, and earns our protagonist accolades for being exactly who she was is pretty remarkable. When I read the Author’s Note at the back of the book and then all of Kline’s acknowledgments, it’s easy to understand just how many hours upon hours of research she did to make this book of fiction as realistic and true to what she could glean as possible. Historical fiction has quickly become one of my favorite genres, and Kline weaves in the story of Wyeth and his paintings while simultaneously telling us the history of Christina, her brother Al, her other brothers, along with her mother, father, and grandmother, and the large farm they operate and live on in Cushing, Maine. Christina also has an ailment that keeps her from living a normal life. Throughout the book, readers will empathize with Christina’s plight, and yet be angry with her decision not to seek medical treatment for her ailment early on in the novel. But what’s remarkable is that through dialogue, we also get a glimpse of who Christina is through Andrew Wyeth’s eyes, and through his eyes as he paints her.
If you are someone who likes to hear from a character who is simple yet complex, tough yet vulnerable, and guarded yet exposed at the same time, Christina Olson is a character you won’t likely forget. Kline allows Christina to tell the story the whole way through, while also allowing her to admit her defeats and mistakes, showcasing a character who employs a full range of emotions.
In the very beginning of the novel, we meet Betsy, who is in love with a young Andrew Wyeth, and it is Betsy who introduces Wyeth to a middle-aged Christina. We, as readers, are treated to the relationship that develops between the two, as well as other relationships Christina has with other characters within the book. I enjoyed the alternating passage of time through back and forth narration from a young Christina to a young woman and then to a middle-aged woman.
I don’t want to give too much else away, but if you enjoyed Kline’s storytelling in Orphan Train, I think you’ll enjoy A Piece of the World and finding out what may have inspired Wyeth’s famous painting. Now, when I look at the painting, I see it so differently, and notice how frail the figure of the woman is depicted in the art.
Stephanie Verni is the author of Beneath the Mimosa Tree, Baseball Girl, Inn Significant, The Postcard and Other Short Stories & Poetry, and an academic textbook Event Planning: Communicating Theory & Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt, that she co-authored with colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus & Chip Rouse.