A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline
Genre: Historical fiction / Literary fiction
Published: 21 February 2017, Harper Collins Australia
In a nutshell
Unrelentingly bleak, strangely compelling and hauntingly beautiful.
What it’s about
A Piece of the World follows the imagined life of Christina Olson, reputed muse of artist Andrew Wyeth and subject of his famous painting, Christina’s World.
Struck down at the age of 3 by a degenerative condition that affected her mobility and caused near-constant pain in her limbs, Christina struggles to live a normal life on her family’s farm by the sea in Maine’s bleak landscape.
As the years go by life becomes progressively harder for Christina as she is burdened with the care of her sick and elderly parents and the reality of her own disease.
The light in her present-day existence is clearly the daily visits from, and conversations with, the young painter, Andrew Wyeth. He arrives one day and decides to use Christina’s old, largely uninhabited, house to base himself at each summer to practise his art.
The story is told by Christina in a first-person narrative. It jumps between the present (post-WWII) and the past, telling her entire life story in snippets until the narrative catches up – and merges – with the present.
What I thought of it
I’m really not sure what to tell you about this one. I’ve changed my star rating on Goodreads from ‘I liked it’ to ‘I really liked it’ and back again several times.
Did I enjoy reading it? Yes, I really did. It’s beautifully written, I genuinely wanted to finish it but I found myself questioning why.
Reading A Piece of the World is a bit like watching the movie, Sliding Doors except that the only fork ever taken on the road of life is the one that brings misery.
Even worse, you know from the very beginning how Christina’s story will end – living in isolation and pain with her brother, still trapped in poverty on the family farm.
When the narrative took me back in time to when she was a girl who wanted to continue school and become a teacher, I had hope for a moment. But then I remembered she wasn’t a teacher when we met her in the present.
I got mildly excited when a young man came into her life. Flawed as he was, perhaps he could rescue her from effective indentured slavery to her family. But no, I knew it was a lost cause. There was no mention of a husband in the present day.
As the story progressed I lost all hope and stopped even looking for it as Christina continued her story. She would ever manage to escape.
I think the redemption is intended to be her position as muse to the great artist, Andrew Wyeth. And that she becomes the subject of one of his greatest works of art.
But, for me, it wasn’t enough. Perhaps that’s my fault, I don’t know. But finally having your soul understood by one artist seemed cold comfort for a lifetime of pain, servitude and missed opportunities.
Disclosure: I received a copy from the publisher for the purpose of review. This post contains affiliate links.