I’ve just ordered this long awaited book and can’t wait to read it not just because it’s by an author whose works I enjoy but because it’s about people and place quite familiar to me.
The piece of the world the title refers to is the Olson House in Cushing, Maine. It is a place I’ve visited many times and am intrigued by its stories.
The main character of Kline’s novel is Christina Olson who shared the house with her brother Alvaro. She was a simple woman crippled by a then undiagnosed disease. She was made famous by her friend Andrew Wyeth’s iconic painting Christina’s World which hangs in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. It was her many viewings of this painting and her visits to the Olson House that inspired Kline to write A Piece of the World.
Last summer I had the privilege of hearing the author talk about the inspiration for her novel which is not just about place but about a woman’s perseverance, independence and strength. At the same time Christina Olson possessed these qualities, there was a vulnerability about her. Inspired by the painting, Kline spent several years researching the Olsons and their 30 year relationship with Wyeth. As history unfolded, she began to appreciate that it was likely Wyeth found something of himself in Christina.
As I listened to Kline discuss the underlying mystery and the influence of the rural landscape found in Wyeth’s painting, I began thinking about the power of visual art and how many ways it gives birth to another art form. Certainly, this is true for the author whose name she shares with her subject. I suspect that if one knew Christina Baker Kline, one would find, like with Wyeth, something shared with Christina.
What I would really like to know is how Christina felt when she saw herself as portrayed by Wyeth and how she would respond to being subject of Kline’s book. That is the part of her story we may never know.
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