Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

This is not a book I would have picked up on my own. I read reviews and summaries and passed it by. But then it fell into my lap and I thought "Why not? You just need to read 50 pages then stop if you don't like it".

I devoured it.

It's not what I expected, not written how I expected, not the story I expected. Isn't there a cliche about judging a book by it's cover??

The premise of this book is explaining the (somewhat fictional) history of the painting Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth. I've not seen the painting before I started this book but admit to thinking "I don't care what that back story is".

Photo courtesy of MoMA
Christina's World - Andrew Wyeth

Kline introduces us to Christina Olson, in 1939. We don't know much about her except that she lives in a very old farm house and her young neighbor Betsy is dropping by to introduce her new beau, Andy Wyeth. Wyeth is fascinated by the story the house and the farm are telling and wants to paint and draw around their property. Christina is older, crippled with something we don't know yet, and she's taken by this artist. So he comes nearly daily to paint. Christina and her brother, Al, never get much company at the farm so they are amused by Wyeth.

The book travels back to 1896, where Christina is deathly ill with a fever. Her family is certain she will not survive, but she does, albeit with crippled legs and horrendous pain. That is the start of Christina's life - pain, falling, misery, humiliation and spinsterhood. She became, quite literally, a cat lady. Never leaving the farm, taking care of her family and never marrying.

The devil, however, is in the details. Christina was a very bright student. Her teacher wanted her to continue on with her schooling so Christina could take the teacher's place. Her father was emphatic that a crippled child needed no more schooling and she was to stay on at the farm and help there. That struck a severe blow - I felt that while reading it. Christina had a beau for a bit, but her circumstances caused rife with his parents. She had so many opportunities that other people dashed, it made my heart hurt for her. She managed to dash the opportunities of other people as well, so don't get too weepy.

The book travels us back and forth between Christina's past and present. We learn about her family history, how she was forced to grow up and how the painting came to be.

This is really a well written, well told story of a painting that I never even knew existed. I'm glad I gave this a try!


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