Mary Coin (Silver)

Mary Coin
Marisa Silver, 2013
Blue Rider Press
336 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780399160707



Summary
In her first novel since The God of War, the critically acclaimed author Marisa Silver takes Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” photograph as inspiration for a breathtaking reinvention—a story of two women, one famous and one forgotten, and of the remarkable legacy of their chance encounter.

In 1936, a young mother resting by the side of a road in Central California is spontaneously photographed by a woman documenting the migrant laborers who have taken to America’s farms in search of work. Little personal information is exchanged, and neither woman has any way of knowing that they have produced what will become the most iconic image of the Great Depression.

Three vibrant characters anchor the narrative of Mary Coin. Mary, the migrant mother herself, who emerges as a woman with deep reserves of courage and nerve, with private passions and carefully-guarded secrets. Vera Dare, the photographer wrestling with creative ambition who makes the choice to leave her children in order to pursue her work. And Walker Dodge, a present-day professor of cultural history, who discovers a family mystery embedded in the picture.

Writing in luminous, exquisitely rendered prose, Silver creates an extraordinary tale from a brief moment in history, and reminds us that although a great photograph can capture the essence of a moment, it only scratches the surface of a life. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—April 23, 1960
Where—Shaker Heights, Ohio, USA
Education—Harvard University
Currently—Los Angeles, California


Marisa Silver is an American author, screenwriter and film director. She is the daughter of Raphael Silver, a film director and producer, and Joan Micklin Silver, a director.

Marisa Silver directed her first film, Old Enough, while she studied at Harvard University. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 1984, when Silver was 23. Silver went on to direct three more feature films—Permanent Record (1988) with Keanu Reeves, Vital Signs (1990) and He Said, She Said (1991) with Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Perkins (co-directed with Ken Kwapis, her now husband).

After making her career in Hollywood, she switched her profession and entered graduate school to become a short story writer. Her first short story appeared in The New Yorker magazine in 2000 and subsequently several more stories have been published there.

Silver published the short-story collection Babe in Paradise in 2001. That collection was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. A story from the collection was included in The Best American Short Stories 2000. In 2005, she published her first novel, No Direction Home. Two more novels followed: The God of War in 2008 and Mary Coin in 2013.

She and Kwapis reside in Los Angeles with their two sons. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
Silver never rushes her story. Instead, she takes her time, setting down the particulars of her characters with palpable care….Silver's focus on the discretely biographical [produces] some truly lovely lines and deeply moving scenes…I read Mary Coin in a day—eager to know who this 32-year-old migrant mother was and willing to imagine how it must have felt to be known for all time for an instant in time, to be invaded by conjecture of both the casual and novelistic sort. A photograph is a single snap. In Mary Coin, Silver suggests all that echoes after that.
Beth Kephart - Chicago Tribune


Special recognition therefore goes to Marisa Silver, whose new novel, Mary Coin, fictionalizes the circumstances of the most famous image of the Depression...the book is a skillful, delicate apprehension of that photograph and its moment in history....[Silver is] a fine, delicate stylist, with an aphoristic style that fills even simple moments with meaning.
USA Today


Silver’s provocative new novel [is] a fictionalized, multigenerational account of [Dorothea] Lange’s life and the life of her migrant farmworker subject. Silver writes beautifully and has meticulously researched her historical details, making for an informative, addictive book whose Depression-era narrative feels particularly relevant in today’s recessionary times.
People


Marisa Silver’s transfixing new novel...deftly sprinkles historical fact into her fictional narrative...a raw and emotional tale that leaves readers with a lingering question: Do photographs illuminate or blur the truth?
O Magazine


Silver is an evocative, precise writer...[she] smoothly integrates ephemeral period details...[Dorothea] Lange's photograph and the world it conjures up is inherently melodramatic. But Silver's writing isn't: she's restrained and smart. Throughout her novel, Silver tackles big questions about the morality of art and, in particular, the exploitation of subjects in photography.
Maureen Corrigan - NPR


Mary Coin is the fictionalized story of [the “Migrant Mother” photograph], with Mary standing in for the actual subject, Florence Owens Thompson, and Vera Dare standing in for Dorothea Lange....a story ready and waiting for a fictionalized treatment. And Marisa Silver does it full, glorious justice. The story is compelling and honest, never sentimentalized or made easy, the writing exquisite in its luminous clarity. Silver accomplishes much in this work, including giving a human face and story to overwhelming disaster, just as the original photograph did....Silver’s story is artful in a way that life often is not, carrying the story of one family through several generations....This novel is simply not to be missed. It is memorable.
Historical Novels Review


(Starred review.) Three characters whose lives span 90 years form the core of Silver's gorgeous third novel (after The God of War). Social historian Walker Dodge...discovers a familial link to a famous photograph. Here, a real-life photo taken by Dorothea Lange in 1936 becomes a fictional photo taken by Vera Dare of Mary Coin. Silver fills in the untold story behind Lange's photo by revealing Vera and Mary's lives in vivid detail.... Silver has managed the difficult task of fleshing out history without glossing over its ugly truths. With writing that is sensual and rich, she shines a light on the parts of personal history not shared and stops time without destroying the moment.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) [S]uperb.... The titular character is a reimagining of this Native American mother of seven, with the memorable face that came to symbolize American poverty. Mary, along with Vera Dare, a strong-minded photographer and polio survivor who is forced to abandon her own children, and Walker Dodge, a modern-day history professor with a surprising link to the celebrated photograph, are the mesmerizing novel's three central characters.... Silver has crafted a highly imaginative story that grabs the reader and won't let go. —Lisa Block, Atlanta, GA
Library Journal


Inspired by Migrant Mother, the iconic Depression-era photograph snapped by Dorothea Lange in 1936, Silver reimagines the lives of both the photographer and the subject....this dual portrait investigates the depths of the human spirit, exposing the inner reserves of will and desire hidden in both women....The luminously written, heart-wrenching—yet never maudlin—plot moves back and forth through time, as history professor Walker Dodge unpeels the layers of the photograph’s hidden truths.
Booklist


The fictionalized lives of photographer Dorothea Lange and the Native American farm worker behind her famous Depression-era portrait "Migrant Mother." While adhering closely to the facts of the real women's lives, Silver (The God of War, 2008, etc.) renames them--Lange becomes Vera Dare; her subject, Florence Owens Thompson, becomes Mary Coin--and frames their stories within a wholly fictional conceit: Social historian Walker Dodge is grappling with his role as a divorced father when he begins researching the history of his family, successful California fruit growers, after the death of his uncommunicative father. Walker, who coincidentally teaches college students how to look at photographs, opens and closes the novel in 2011, but the real focus is on the two women. Mary grows up on an Oklahoma farm, raised by her tough but loving Cherokee mother after her alcoholic white father's death. At 17, she marries Toby Coin, and they head to California where he works in sawmills and she has one baby after another. By 1929, a fire has burned down the mill and their home. After Toby dies, Mary picks fruit to support her children. After an affair with a farm owner's son, she has another baby that she is nursing near her broken-down car the day in 1936 when Vera Dare takes her picture. Vera, who still limps from the polio she suffered as a child, has spent the 1920s in San Francisco as a society photographer. Her financial security has collapsed by the early 1930s, along with her marriage to a flamboyant, womanizing painter. By the time she runs across Mary, Vera has farmed out her two sons to travel the countryside taking pictures to document rural poverty for FDR's Resettlement Administration. When she photographs Mary, Vera has no idea the image will take on a life of its own. Walker's tacked-on connection to the photograph seems a calculated attempt to add sexual intrigue to what is otherwise a disappointingly plodding account that sheds no new light on either the photographer or her subject.
Kirkus Reviews



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