Author Christina Baker Kline offers readers an interesting concept in A PIECE OF THE WORLD. Who is the women lying in the farm field in American Artist Andrew Wyeth‘s famous painting “Christina’s World”? Awarded three stars on Goodreads.
The novel is a blend of deep research (described in the author’s Afterword) and creative license. Because the woman in Wyeth’s painting was real. She was Christina Olson, who lived in Maine where Wyeth (1917-2009) spent many summers.
Originally friends with the woman who would later become Wyeth’s wife, Christina ultimately became one of Wyeth’s muses. And he spent a great deal of time with her, at her farm, sketching and painting a variety of nearby rustic scenes.
Christina’s back story is not a happy one. An unusually intelligent and perceptive person, she is nevertheless limited by the same restrictions imposed on all women in the 20th century, when marriage and children were the essential measures of a successful life. Christina, however, is further limited by a degenerative nerve disease, though that does not seem in any way to alter her family’s expectations. Because Christina’s life is defined by years of physically-difficult and endless household drudgery.
Moving forward and back through time to piece together Christina’s story (and her evolving relationship with Wyeth), the author shows snapshots of missed opportunities, social slights, and self-imposed constrictions that shape Christina’s character. Along with her remarkable determination not to give in to her failing body.
It all sounds very powerful and dramatic, doesn’t it? But, unfortunately, I felt it came up short. I did not wind up liking Christina very much, though I certainly understood the reasons behind many of the resentments she harbored. And though I believe the author was trying to show parallels between the ways Christina and Wyeth each saw the world, it didn’t quite work for me. So, not my favorite from this author.
Here is a look at more of of Wyeth’s art.
More about the author, Christina Baker Kline.
You may be interested in my review of another novel by Kline, Orphan Train.