If you’re interested in reading this book yourself, I’m giving one away! See the contest info at the end of this post.
First, a few admissions. I am one of those people who never took any sort of art appreciation or art history class in college. No memorizing paintings and sculptures and talking about the meanings behind the artist’s choices.
(Truth be told, I did have some sort of art appreciation requirement. To fulfill this requirement, I took a class called Jazz, Pop and Rock, and I have never regretted it.)
So while I may have a passing knowledge of artists, I don’t know a ton about art. When it comes to American artists, I can probably count the number I know anything about on one hand. But during my first year in grad school, when I was living in my first apartment and out on my own in the big world, I ran across Andrew Wyeth.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit how . . . but I was at that moment we all come to at
some point. When we want our home to have art but we don’t have the money for real art, so we turn to prints. I was a big fan of a website that sold framed art prints at the time and somehow, I wandered into a collection of Wyeth’s work. And it captivated me for reasons I could not explain. I didn’t necessarily want it hanging on the walls of my home, but I kept coming back to look at it again and again.
So when I read a description of this novel, a fictionalized but highly researched backstory of Wyeth’s most famous painting, “Christina’s World,” I couldn’t resist adding it to my reading list.
Christina Baker Kline’s book, like Wyeth’s art, leaves you a little unsettled. Maybe it’s because of the setting (the harsh winters of Maine play a big role) or the lead character (Christina, who has a debilitating chronic illness), but the novel left me a little unfulfilled. It’s a beautiful novel. Kline’s descriptions, dialogue and the insight into the narrator’s mind and thoughts are flawless, but it’s also bleak, a bit unforgiving and harsh.
But so was Wyeth’s work. And those Maine winters. And Christina’s life, in many ways.
But the character’s life—and in the turn, the novel—are also beautiful in their own ways. Wyeth’s paintings are arresting in their starkness, and so is this novel. Kline doesn’t go on for pages with anything that feels out of place or unnecessary. At the end of the book, you’re not left wondering why a certain scene or conversation was in the book. They all have a purpose, and they serve them well.
If you’re looking for a book that’s basically a Hallmark movie on paper, this isn’t the novel for you. If you’re looking for a book that explores the inner workings of a woman who feels in many ways trapped in her world, then read on. If you want to read something that won’t make you think, don’t pick this one up.
In some places, the book was a little hard to read. Christina is considered an old maid. She is lonely, and her life is marked by this Great Disappointment of a man. To protect herself from further hurt, she insulates herself more by becoming more and more insular, bitter and hurtful, even to those whom she loves most. As someone who sometimes struggles with the fact that she is single, it was a reminder of the attitude I don’t want to have!
In many ways, Christina, the main character and narrator, lives an insulated, isolated life. We catch glimpses of her life, ranging from childhood to old age, throughout the novel. Frankly, the jumping back and forth proved confusing to me. Time shifts are clearly denoted, but I could never remember which Christina we’d meet in those time periods, whether young or old.
So much imagery and tools are used to show the stark nature of Christina’s life. The separation and burden her illness causes her, the stark white house up on the hill, the lack of electricity and modern conveniences later in her life. But Christina herself also reveals the insular nature of her world. She’s continually reminding you how things are like poems or lines in books she’s read, showing that her world sometimes isn’t one she has experienced physically, but rather vicariously.
In the end, I think A Piece of the World is a book I’m happy I read. It’s beautifully written and well-constructed. But it’s also a bleak book, with happiness in bits and pieces and a lot of tragedy and unhappiness. Somehow, I think Kline has achieved a novel that points to the same themes that make Wyeth’s work so beautifully arresting and disturbing at the same time.
It’s definitely worth the read, just don’t go into it thinking you’ll feel uplifted at the end.
Want your own copy of this book? I’m giving away one copy of the Kindle version! Enter here.
NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Ends the earlier of Feb 13, 2018 11:59 PM PST, or when all prizes are claimed. See Official Rules http://amzn.to/GArules.