Christina Baker Kline’s A Piece of the World is an easy book to review. As the selection for our March Second Saturday Book Club, it generated a great deal of discussion from those in attendance. There was much to discuss; the tormented protagonist, the simultaneously stark and beautiful tone of the writing, and the romantic setting of an early to mid twentieth-century Maine shore town were all themes conducive to conversation.
Perhaps the most interesting theme is the relationship between the book and the real-life painting that it is inspired by (Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World, pictured above). The painting’s subject (who shares the author’s name) was a real person who inhabited the eerie homestead in the piece’s backdrop. Although little is known about the subject’s personal life, Kline uses her interpretation of the painting’s themes and mood to craft a fully realized character history. Her prose imitates the painter’s style as it is also beautiful and simple, but with much more going on under the surface than is initially obvious. (If you look at the painting for long enough, you’ll start to notice how creepy the house is, or how the subject’s pose is both relaxed and apprehensive).
Readers should ensure not to skip the author’s note at the book’s close; there are a number of illuminating tidbits offered by Kline involving the painting’s history, Wyeth’s fascination with Christina and the setting, as well as the author’s interpretation and thoughts about the piece.
Bottom Line: Although some readers might find the book’s pacing somewhat slow, A Piece of the World is a worthwhile read that features a rich story, excellent prose, eternally relevant themes such as acceptance and lonliness, and a fascinating premise.
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