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.
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.
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?
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.
(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
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.
The fictionalized lives of photographer Dorothea Lange and the Native American farm worker behind her famous Depression-era portrait "Migrant Mother." ... 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.
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