Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Review: Mary Coin by Marisa Silver

Title: Mary Coin

Author: Marisa Silver

Information on series: Not part of a series

Audience: Adult

Rating (scale of 1-10, with 10 being highest): 8

TL;DR:  A parallel narrative of the lives of a photographer, the subject of the photograph and a college professor.  

Longer Review:  Mary Coin is the subject of the famous photograph “Migrant Mother” that Dorothea Lange snapped in Depression era 1936.  When social historian, Walker Dodge, is sorting through his Father’s house he discovers a familial link to the famous photograph.  The book mostly goes back and forth between Mary and Vera Dare (Dorothea)’s stories.  Both women are very strong and have to deal with difficulties by themselves.  Mary marries at 17 to a saw mill worker and has many children.  After her husband dies she becomes a migrant worker where Vera finds her along the road and snaps her picture.  Vera contracted polio as a child and walked with a limp.  She studied photography at Columbia and had her own studio.  She married an artist and had two children.  Her husband eventually left her.
I was more interested in Mary’s storyline than Vera’s.  Usually when I read historical fiction involving artists I find their personalities and their life experiences so different than my own that I don’t enjoy them as much as stories of ordinary working people.  I try to put myself in their shoes and wonder if I would be able to live through what they lived through.  In this case being a migrant worker during the Great Depression.
The author did a good job of portraying the time period.  Her prose is very poignant.  My favorite line is “You’ll know who you are when you start losing things”.

Readalikes:  The Forgotten Seamstress by Liz Trenow:  Parallel narratives, Women’s lives and relationships.  Carolyn finds a quilt in her Mother’s attic and is intrigued by its origin.  The story of the quiltmaker is told through transcripts.

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood:  Parallel narratives.  An obituary writer who is searching for her missing lover is linked to a woman who is considering leaving her loveless marriage.

Prayers for sale by Sandra Dallas.  Set during the depression, a story of friendship between 86 year old Hennie and 17 year old Nit.

~ Review by Amy Stuenkel