The newest novel from Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train, is A Piece of the World, a fictional biography of Andrew Wyeth’s most famous subject. Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World depicts his neighbor, Anna Christina Olson. While much is known about this woman in connection to Wyeth, Kline fills in the gaps in our knowledge of Olson’s personal life with fiction.
The most striking characteristic of A Piece of the World is its undeniable sense of place. The Olsons, Christina and her brother Alvaro, live in the house of their youth, which was also the house of their mother’s youth. Wyeth is fascinated by the house and sketches and paints it inside and out. The house is practically a character in the book, just as it serves as the far-off focal point of Wyeth’s painting. It’s more than just the house, though, that gives this book roots.
Christina and Alvaro are descendants of a long line of seafarers and their mother’s maiden name was Hathorn. They are distant relatives of Nathaniel Hawthorne and, going back even further, the notorious John Hathorne of the Salem witch trials. When Christina has a beau, he is destined for Harvard. When she and her brother make a trip “to the outside world,” they go to Boston. This is a New England story, a Maine story, a story that simply couldn’t take place anywhere else.
Kline draws on Wyeth’s painting, that Christina’s world truly is encompassed by a field and a house. She spins a story both glamorous and homely, romantic and realistic. Christina’s story, her trials and heartbreaks, and ultimately her comfort, exist in such a small space, but the scope is as wide as her own imagination.