I have loved Christina's World, a painting by Andrew Wyeth, since I was little. My older brother gave my parents a copy of a coffee table book on Wyeth with this picture on the cover one Christmas, and I was intrigued by the painting and spent many hours flipping through the book, looking at the pictures.
Hence, it was natural for me to want to read A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline, which is a novel about Christina Olsen, the woman Wyeth used as a model for his most famous painting. It was my last book of 2018, and it did not disappoint.
I honestly don't know how much is known about Christina, apart from the fact that she was crippled and Wyeth and his wife, Betsy, stayed with Christina and her brother Al during the summer on their Maine farm in the mid-1940s. Hence, I don't know how many liberties Kline took with their story as she fictionalized it, but that sort of doesn't matter. For example, I have no idea whether the love interest is based on a real person in Christina's life, but in terms of Christina's story arc I think it is a vital element.
I thought Christina a very realistic character--she is frustrated by her physical disability, proud and determined to live life on her own terms, hardworking, resourceful, at times petty and perverse.
I also loved reading about Andrew Wyeth and how he approached his work. I am fascinated by the creative process, and Kline did a wonderful job with her portrait of a painter and the legacy he wrestled with as the son of a famous artist.
Here's an excerpt from the Prologue that I think is just splendid. A perfect opening to a wonderful book.
People think the painting is a portrait, but it isn’t. Not really. He wasn’t even in the field; he conjured it from a room in the house, an entirely different angle. He removed rocks and trees and outbuildings. The scale of the barn is wrong. And I am not that frail young thing, but a middle-aged spinster. It’s not my body, really, and maybe not even my head.
He did get one thing right: Sometimes a sanctuary, sometimes a prison, that house on the hill has always been my home. I’ve spent my life yearning toward it, wanting to escape it, paralyzed by its hold on me. (There are many ways to be crippled, I’ve learned over the years, many forms of paralysis.) My ancestors fled to Maine from Salem, but like anyone who tries to run away from the past, they brought it with them. Something inexorable seeds itself in the place of your origin. You can never escape the bonds of family history, no matter how far you travel. And the skeleton of a house can carry in its bones the marrow of all that came before.