New York Times Review
Christina baker kline sets herself a stark challenge in her new novel - giving flesh to the back story of the woman who crawls across a desolate field in Andrew Wyeth's iconic painting, "Christina's World." Anyone who has seen this work, a landmark of midcentury realism, already knows that in the course of this novel Anna Christina Olson is unlikely to scale the peaks of high society or discover the source of the Amazon. In "A Piece of the World," Kline must dig deeper to find meaning in her heroine's circumscribed existence, in a life played out against the backdrop of a stern, unyielding landscape. Kline's previous novel, "Orphan Train," also emphasized lives forged in hardship. But that plot was kept spinning through the perils endured by thousands of orphans transported to uncertain fates in the rural Midwest of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. "A Piece of the World" signals from the beginning that stasis will define Christina's outward existence. "I think of my own life," she says. "All the years, all the waiting that led to nothing." From childhood, a progressive disease hobbles Christina's mobility, yet she stubbornly refuses medical help and even the use of braces or a wheelchair, choosing to lurch in pain across the fields of her family's struggling farm on the salt-misted coast of Maine. No one seems to feel much pity for her, nor does she pity herself. Her parents dash her hopes of finishing school, relying on her to cook, clean and mend for them and her brothers. Meticulously, Kline documents the sheer physical toil required to survive in a home without electricity or running water, knocking the sheen off the nostalgic myth of an idyllic rural past. Eventually the others die or drift away and only Christina and one brother are left to hold bitterness at bay. Christina longs for more: not just an education but the love of a summer swell whose life in Boston might as well take place on the moon, so foreign is it to her country ways. She treasures a volume of Emily Dickinson's poems, a gift from a teacher who tries to reassure her: "Your mind - your curiosity - will be your comfort." The arrival, in 1939, of the painter Andrew Wyeth, summering nearby, provides relief from isolation. He rambles through the dilapidated property, capturing in paint the cracks in a white teapot, "the bleached bones of a storm-rubbed house." The novel evokes the somber grace of those paintings in language as earnest and straightforward as Wyeth's brush strokes, laying out a story as uncomplicated as his composition. Both painter and writer have a fine-grained feel for the setting, and both would seem to reject the irony, humor and abstraction of modernity. Christina's yearning, her determination, her will to dream, occupy the emotional center in both the novel and the painting. Yet in expanding on Christina's story, Kline defies what some might see as the strength of Wyeth's work, its undercurrent of mystery. Wyeth observes Christina only from the back. In fact, he once said he might have preferred to depict the field alone, leaving just the sense that Christina had been there. Despite the naturalism of his style, Wyeth asks viewers to exercise their own imaginations. In contrast, Kline sometimes overexplains, spelling out thoughts and feelings already apparent from the action and dialogue. This approach serves readers who want to fill in the blanks, to experience the daily grind of a way of life that often has been burnished by the passage of time, to honor the rectitude of people who stoically shoulder their burdens and get on with their chores. "A Piece of the World" is a story for those who want the mysterious made real. ? BECKY aikman'S latest book, "Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge," will bepublished in June.
Library Journal Review
Andrew Wyeth's painting Christina's World is considered to be one of his best works. It features a woman in a pink dress crawling up a grassy hillside toward a stark wood-framed house. The colors are muted and the overall effect is bleak. The painting's namesake was a real person, Christina -Olson, who lived on her family's seaside farm in Maine and suffered from a degenerative condition now believed to be Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease. In this finely drawn novel, the author of Orphan Train imagines what it was like to be Christina, consigned to a hard life running a farm even as her world gradually shrinks owing to a debilitating and mysterious ailment. Introduced to Wyeth by a family friend, Christina and her home inspire the artist. He visits daily, setting up a studio in an upstairs room. He admires her quick mind and perseverance. She appreciates his artistic talent and that he does not pity her. As Kline pieces together different eras of Christina's life, her word portrait depicts a stubborn, determined woman. VERDICT Kline expertly captures the essence of -Wyeth's iconic masterpiece and its real-life subject, crafting a moving work of historical fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 8/15/16.]--Christine -Perkins, Whatcom Cty. Lib. Syst., -Bellingham, WA © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
The world of the woman immortalized in Andrew Wyeth's haunting painting Christina's World is imagined in Kline's (Orphan Train) intriguing novel. The artist meets Christina Olson in 1939 when he summers near her home in Cushing, Maine, introduced by Betsy James, the young woman who knew the Olsons and would become Wyeth's wife. The story is told from Christina's point of view, from the moment she reflects on the painting; it then goes back and forth through her history, from her childhood through the time that Wyeth painted at her family farm, using its environs and Christina and her brother as subjects. First encountering Christina as a middle-aged woman, Wyeth saw something in her that others did not. Their shared bond of physical infirmity (she had undiagnosed polio; he had a damaged right foot and bad hip) enables her to open up about her family and her difficult life, primarily as a shut-in, caring for her family, cooking, cleaning, sewing, and doing laundry-all without electricity and despite her debilitating disease. Hope of escape, when her teacher offers her the chance to take her place, was summarily quashed by her father. Her first and only romance with a summer visitor from Boston has an ignoble end when he marries someone in his social class. Through it all, the author's insightful, evocative prose brings Christina's singular perspective and indomitable spirit to life. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Library Journal Review
Applying her research from writing her best seller Orphan Train as well as her own experiences growing up in Maine, Kline has created an authentic portrayal of Christina Olson, the real-life inspiration for Christina's World, one of Andrew Wyeth's most iconic paintings. Wyeth and his young wife summered near the Olson homestead between the 1930s and 1960s, and he often used Olson and her brother as models in his work. In this novel, Christina's story is told in first person and includes flashbacks to help readers better understand how differently her life might have turned out if not for her circumstances. Christina and her brother Al sacrifice chances of finding true love and, in her case, the opportunity to become a teacher, because they have to keep the family farm running and care for their ailing parents. Day-to-day survival with no electricity in rural Maine is described in vivid detail. Such an unforgiving environment would be challenging enough for someone able-bodied but was far more difficult for Christina, who had a painful degenerative disease that eventually made it impossible for her to walk. Her struggles are portrayed in Christina's World, where she is shown dragging herself across a field. Thoughtful teens who appreciate literary fiction will find Christina's pragmatism and pride admirable. VERDICT Fans of historical fiction or those wanting to know more about this period of Andrew Wyeth's life will not want to miss this inspirational slice of history.-Sherry Mills, Hazelwood East High School, St. Louis © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Booklist Review
Kline (Orphan Train, 2013) takes Andrew Wyeth's iconic and enigmatic painting Christina's World as the inspiration for her new novel. The story knits together the period in the 1940s when Wyeth sets up a studio in an old farmhouse on Hathorne Point in Cushing, Maine, where 46-year-old Christina Olson lives with her brother Alvaro, and where, at age three, she was struck by an illness that seems to mark the onset of her lifelong infirmities. She grows up smart and tenacious but circumscribed by duty and disability, never moving away from the house that appears in Wyeth's picture and is full of her family's past. Her education is cut short because of work to be done at home. A romance with a Harvard student ends in crushing disappointment. There is not much in the way of plot, but readers will savor the quotidian details that compose Christina's quiet country life. Orphan Train was a best-seller and popular book-discussion choice, so expect demand.--Quinn, Mary Ellen Copyright 2017 Booklist