Posts Tagged new england
A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline. William Morrow| February 2017| 309 pages | $27.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-235626-0
“Do our natures dictate the choices we make, I wonder, or do we choose to live a certain way because of circumstances beyond our control? Perhaps these questions are impossible to tease apart because, like a tangle of seaweed on a rock, they are connected at the root. I think of those long-ago Hathorns, determined beyond all reason to leave the past behind—and we, their descendants, inheritors of their contrarian tenacity, sticking it out, one generation after the next, until every last one of us ends up in the graveyard at the bottom of the field.”
In the gorgeous and mysterious 1948 masterpiece Christina’s World, Andrew Wyeth depicts a woman crouching on a hill looking toward a weathered farm house. Looking at the painting, one might wonder whether the woman is coming or going. She seems far away and in such a twisted, crouching position with her hair blowing a bit in the wind. I never knew that Wyeth painted this on a farm in Maine. Author Christina Baker Kline creates a riveting story of the artist’s muse. Christina Olson lives a rather solitary, quiet and isolated existence in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine on her family’s farm with her brother. Christina lived at a particular time in particular circumstances and suffered an illness as a child which led to increasingly physical debility. At school she develops an affinity for Emily Dickinson’s poetry. Her father insists she quit school after eighth grade to help on the farm. Christina wanted to be a teacher. When young painter Andrew Wyeth asks if he can paint the farm, Christina and her brother welcome the distraction and attention.
This masterful work of historical fiction—told through first-person narrative– allows readers to feel Christina’s pain, disappointment and glimmers of hope throughout. In her youth, Christina dates a young man who summers nearby. But after several years he becomes engaged to another woman. He never intended to foray into a serious relationship with Christina. She’s devastated as she’s looking to be understood and accepted and just seen by somebody. Something many people seek. Readers feel empathy for Christina but not pity. She’s resilient and resourceful. She’s managing her situation. Writing with exquisite detail, Kline transports us to Maine and effectively moves from 1940 to the early 1900s to reveal the personal history of the woman immortalized by a classic American work of art.
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from William Morrow.
Years ago I read the wonderful short story collection Of Men and Cats by Nina de Gramont. This is the first novel I’ve read in some time that I wanted to read and read and read and not switch over to another book for a bit. The setting is mostly New England: Amherst; Cape Cod; Maine. It starts with a murder. Someone murdered Brett’s husband Charlie. “What did I know about the way my life would change in a matter of hours? Absolutely nothing. Murder. It’s a word out of potboilers and film noir. It leaps from the TV screen during police dramas or the evening news. It doesn’t sound real. It’s nothing you ever think will have to do with you.”
While Brett comes to terms with her husband’s death and wonders who killed him—all signs point to the schizophrenic brother—author Nina de Gramont takes us back to explore how Brett and Charlie met, as well as complications in their marriage mostly due to Charlie’s infidelity and inability to keep a job. Brett lived with Charlie in a seaside cottage on the Cape. Meant for seasonal occupation, it’s her husband Charlie’s summer home. Brett fell in love with Charlie during college when they spent one magical night together skiing under the stars in Colorado. Brett had been friends with Charlie’s brother Eli. But Eli suffered a scary and devastating breakdown which scared Brett and he subsequently left college for treatment.
Years later Brett runs into Charlie on Cape Cod with her fiancé Ladd [who knows Charlie’s family] and the two pick up as if time never passed. “Anyone could have told me, and I knew even as I moved forward: This whole thing was a mistake. A disastrous mistake. Charlie had already rejected me once. And now I was leaving Ladd, breaking off my engagement, for a man who hadn’t even said he loved me and maybe never would. Charlie was scattered, penniless, jobless. Who knew what he even aspired to, as far as character, as far as life?”
Charlie remains close to Eli and constantly protects and rescues Eli –when he’s off meds or finds himself off the rails– which makes Brett both wary and uncomfortable. “It took several seconds to recognize Eli. In my mind, he had separated into two different people: the great friend who’d always had my back and the scary stranger who appeared one night, and then disappeared, taking the original one with him. Now there seemed a third one, barely recognizable across those distant years and miles.”
Brett becomes consumed by Charlie. Her world revolves around Charlie. Brett works to complete a PhD in 19th century poetry while Charlie doesn’t even read. There are numerous connections to Emily Dickinson throughout as Brett studies 19th century poetry and lived across the street in Amherst from the Dickinson home.
It’s a devastating and destructive relationship. Brett loses her sense of self when she’s with Charlie. “And I didn’t just love him. I loved him enough to stop caring about anything else. I loved him enough to wreck my life. I loved him the way you dream about being loved, when you don’t even know you’re dreaming.” But is that enough to keep them happy and together. Is Brett more devoted to Charlie than Charlie to Brett? Did Eli really kill the brother who loved and cared for him unconditionally or is there a third party involved?
Nina de Gramont writes excellent characters and a dazzling storyline involving mental illness, family, infidelity, relationships, love and murder. The Last September is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s a masterful mediation on relationships.
–review by Amy Steele
<em>FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Algonquin Books.</em>