A Piece of the World

Christina Baker Kline’s most recent novel, A Piece of the World, is set against the backdrop of the remote coastal town of Cushing, Maine. It is the location where Andrew Wyeth created his famous masterpiece Christina’s World. To gain a better understanding of the artist I checked out Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In by Nancy Anderson. I found this informative book with photos of Wyeth’s work fascinating, adding to my enjoyment of the novel. This was furthered as I listened to A Piece of the World on audio book and read by Polly Stone whose hypnotic voice was like a tonic.

Kline’s novel primarily follows the life of Christina Olson the subject of Wyeth’s painting. The author draws from historical facts and imagination to paint a portrait, no pun intended, of Christina Olson. Christina lived her entire life in her family home which dates back to her mother’s Hathorn side of the family. In her youth Christina was vibrant and full of determination, choosing to not let her physical disability keep her from enjoying life. It is during this period that Christina’s parents seek medical treatment for her in anticipation of finding a cure for their daughter’s crippled leg. But a day’s journey by buggy in the hopes of finding a remedy turned sour when Christina refused to be seen by the physician. Her father was furious. At age 12, still eager to continue her education, Christina’s dreams are overruled by her father and she is forced to stay at home, assisting her fragile mother with chores and attending to her younger brothers.

The story, like Wyeth’s painting of curtains lifting off the window frame by ocean breezes, swings between alternating seasons in Christina’s life, exposing light and air followed by darkness and disappointment.

It is during mid-life that Christina, fairly isolated and bitter, meets a young Andrew Wyeth by way of her young neighbor and friend Betsy. Wyeth is sensitive and enthusiastic yet a bit hesitant to take the spotlight. During his first visit to the homestead he is instantly taken with its character and makes a studio in an upper bedroom. The young couple fall in love and are married; they will remain a part of the Olson’s life for years.

I’ll admit that I’d all but given up on completing this post until I spotted an advertisement for a Wyeth exhibit coming to SAM. I’m even more thrilled to discover that the companion book to the exhibit can be checked out from the Everett Public Library: Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect.

I don’t know about you, but this sort of crazy coincidence (reading a good historical novel that piqued my appetite to learn more about the artist and then having the opportunity to go see his work) is simply thrilling!