Piece of the World (Kline)

A Piece of the World 
Christina Baker Kline, 2017
320 pp.

Later he told me that he’d been afraid to show me the painting. He thought I wouldn’t like the way he portrayed me: dragging myself across the field, fingers clutching dirt, my legs twisted behind. The arid moonscape of wheatgrass and timothy. That dilapidated house in the distance, looming up like a secret that won’t stay hidden.

To Christina Olson, the entire world was her family’s remote farm in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine. Born in the home her family had lived in for generations, and increasingly incapacitated by illness, Christina seemed destined for a small life.

Instead, for more than twenty years, she was host and inspiration for the artist Andrew Wyeth, and became the subject of one of the best known American paintings of the twentieth century.

As she did in her beloved smash bestseller Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline interweaves fact and fiction in a powerful novel that illuminates a little-known part of America’s history. Bringing into focus the flesh-and-blood woman behind the portrait, she vividly imagines the life of a woman with a complicated relationship to her family and her past, and a special bond with one of our greatest modern artists.

Told in evocative and lucid prose, A Piece of the World is a story about the burdens and blessings of family history, and how artist and muse can come together to forge a new and timeless legacy.

This edition includes a four-color reproduction of Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Raised—in Maine and Tennessee, USA, and the UK
Education—B.A., Yale University; M.B., Cambridge University; M.F.A., University of Virginia
Currently—lives in Montclair, New Jersey

Christina Baker Kline is a novelist, nonfiction writer, and editor. She is perhaps best known for her most recent novels, The Exiles (2020) A Piece of the World (2017) and Orphan Train (2013).

Kline also commissioned and edited two widely praised collections of original essays on the first year of parenthood and raising young children, Child of Mine and Room to Grow. She coauthored a book on feminist mothers and daughters, The Conversation Begins, with her mother, Christina L. Baker, and she coedited About Face: Women Write About What They See When They Look in the Mirror with Anne Burt.

Kline grew up in Maine, England, and Tennessee, and has spent a lot of time in Minnesota and North Dakota, where here husband grew up. She is a graduate of Yale, Cambridge, and the University of Virginia, where she was a Hoyns Fellow in Fiction Writing.

She has taught creative writing and literature at Fordham and Yale, among other places, and is a recent recipient of a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation fellowship. She lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with her family. (From the pubisher.)

Book Reviews
[I]n expanding on Christina’s story, Kline defies what some might see as the strength of Wyeth’s work, its undercurrent of mystery.… Despite the naturalism of his style, Wyeth asks viewers to exercise their own imaginations. In contrast, Kline sometimes over-explains.… This approach serves readers who want to fill in the blanks, to experience the daily grind of a way of life that often has been burnished by the passage of time, to honor the rectitude of people who stoically shoulder their burdens and get on with their chores. A Piece of the World is a story for those who want the mysterious made real.
Becky Aikman - New York Times Book Review

Like Wyeth’s paintings, this is a vivid novel about hardscrabble lives and prairie grit and the seemingly small but significant beauties found there.
Christine Brunkhorst - Minneapolis Star Tribune

Kline’s gift is to dispense with the fustiness and fact-clogged drama that can weigh down some historical novels to tell a pure, powerful story of suffering met with a fight. In fiction, in her quiet way, Christina triumphs—and so does this novel.
Oprah Magazine

A gorgeous read.
Real Simple

Artfully (pun intended) inspired by the Andrew Wyeth painting Christina’s World.
Marie Claire

[I]ntriguing.… The story is told from Christina’s point of view, from the moment she reflects on the painting; it then goes back and forth through her history.… Through it all, the author’s insightful, evocative prose brings Christina’s singular perspective and indomitable spirit to life.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) [A] finely drawn novel.… Kline expertly captures the essence of Wyeth's iconic masterpiece and its real-life subject, crafting a moving work of historical fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 8/15/16.]—Christine Perkins, Whatcom Cty. Lib. Syst., Bellingham, WA
Library Journal

Readers will savor the quotidian details that compose Christina’s "quiet country life." Orphan Train was a best-seller and popular book-discussion choice, so expect demand.

The real-life subject of an iconic work of art is given her own version of a canvas—space in which to reveal her tough personality, bruised heart, and "artist's soul."… It's thin on plot, but Kline's reading group-friendly novel delivers a character portrait that is painterly, sensuous, and sympathetic.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, please use our LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for A Piece of the World...then take off on your own:

1. A good place to start a discussion of A Piece of the World is by considering Wyeth's painting, Christina's World. What does the painting exude, how would you describe its mood? Why might Wyeth have chosen not to reveal Christina's face? Observing the painting how does Christine strike you?

2. Now consider the novel. Do you think Christina Baker Kline captures the essence of Wyeth's painting? Is her own "drawing" of Christine what you might expect from the painting? More...or less than? Different?

3. Follow-up to Question 2: Describe Christine and the hardships she faces in her life. Talk about her debilitating disease. No one seems to pity her; is she deserving of pity in your eyes? Is she deserving of pity in her own eyes?

4. What was life like in Maine for Christine and her family in Cushing, Maine? Does Kline's portrayal detract at all from the nostalgic sheen which bygone eras sometimes create in us? Was there once an idyllic rural past?

5. In what way does Andrew Wyeth open up Christine's life? What does he show her about her surroundings? How does Kline portray Christine and Andy's attachment to one another?

6. Emily Dickinson's poetry and life seem to loom large in Christine's imagination. What does Christine find in the poet's work that inspires her?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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