A Piece of the World

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I’ve just ordered this long awaited book and can’t wait to read it not just because it’s by an author whose works I enjoy but because it’s about people and place quite familiar to me.

Olson HouseThe piece of the world the title refers to is the Olson House in Cushing, Maine.  It is a place I’ve visited many times and am intrigued by its stories.

christinas_world-e1380208783741The main character of Kline’s novel is Christina Olson who shared the house with her brother Alvaro.  She was a simple woman crippled by a then undiagnosed disease.  She was made famous by her friend Andrew Wyeth’s iconic painting Christina’s World which hangs in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.  It was her many viewings of this painting and her visits to the Olson House that inspired Kline to write A Piece of the World.

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Christina Olson painted by Andrew Wyeth

Last summer I had the privilege of hearing the author talk about the inspiration for her novel which is not just about place but about a woman’s perseverance, independence and strength.  At the same time Christina Olson possessed these qualities, there was a vulnerability about her.  Inspired by the painting, Kline spent several years researching the Olsons and their 30 year relationship with Wyeth.  As history unfolded, she began to appreciate that it was likely Wyeth found something of himself in Christina.  

As I listened to Kline discuss the underlying mystery  and the influence of the rural landscape found in Wyeth’s painting, I began thinking about the power of visual art and how many ways it gives birth to another art form.  Certainly, this is true for the author whose name she shares with her subject.  I suspect that if one knew Christina Baker Kline, one would find, like with Wyeth, something shared with Christina.

What I would really like to know is how Christina felt when she saw herself as portrayed by Wyeth and how she would respond to being subject of Kline’s book.  That is the part of her story we may never know.

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Gardiner & E.A. Robinson

GardinerGardiner is one of those small Maine towns that in different times was more prosperous, but as mills in Maine disappeared so did much of Gardiner’s prosperity.

GardinerToday visitors are drawn by its architecture 

Gardinerand the A-1 Diner with its down home menu.

GardinerWhat drew me here this day was learning that Gardiner was home to E. A. Robinson, a three time Pulitzer prize winner who just happens to be one of my favorite American poets.  While he is honored there, it is said that Robinson was not particularly happy in Gardiner.   One brother was addicted to laudanum, another married the woman who Robinson fancied and eventually became an impoverished alcoholic estranged from his wife and children.  After this brother’s death, Robinson proposed marriage to the wife he left behind, and upon being refused, the poet left Gardiner for New York where he lived until his death.

GardinerDespite his long absence from the town, his ashes are buried in Gardiner in the Robinson family plot.  The gravesite was not easy to find and had it not been for a caretaker leading me there, I’d probably still be wandering in search of it.

 GardinerExploring the paths of Robinson’s life in Gardiner, where his boyhood home still stands,  made his poetry seem more real.  As I reread my favorites, it struck me that many are dark and may reflect the musings of a lonely, perhaps unhappy man.  How could I not wonder how much of his work, at least in the early years, was influenced by the time he spent there and the characters he observed.  Take, for example, Miniver Cheevey.  Could he not have been a small town guy who as life  passed him by found his dreams in a bottle?

Miniver Cheevy

He wept that he was ever born,

And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old

When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;

The vision of a warrior bold

Would set him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,

And dreamed, and rested from his labors;

He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,

And Priam’s neighbors.

Minever mourned the ripe renown

That made so many a name so fragrant;

He mourned Romance, now on the town,

And Art, a vagrant.

Minever loved the Medici,

Albeit he had never seen one;

He would have sinned incessantly

Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace

And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;

He missed the mediæval grace

Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,

But sore annoyed was he without it;

Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,

And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,

Scratched his head and kept on thinking;

Miniver coughed, and called it fate,

And kept on drinking.


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Joining

The Places I’ve Been

Book Inspiration

How some people always manage to get it right is beyond me, but when I tell you this gal does, it’s true.

book club tablescapeFrom the minute you enter this lovely Maine cottage  you can expect to find welcoming vignettes.

book clubIf you are fortunate enough to pass through the kitchen, you will find something interesting or beautiful occupying every space and giving clues about the owner’s sensibility.

book club tablescapeLucky for the book group, she hosts us at least once a year, and we know the table will be a wonder to behold with a just right centerpiece and a mix of pattern and texture that make a perfect whole.

book club tablescapeOur book of choice this time is The Woman Upstairs in which the main character is an artist whose creations are miniature roomscapes.  Do you believe our hostess just happens to have pieces that capture the essence?

book club tablescapeIt would have been enough to have just one of these miniatures, but here are two, each with intricate detail meriting careful attention.

book club tablescapeThe hostess has magic fingers in her garden so we can always expect to see beautiful specimens  artfully arranged to complete any centerpiece and complement the patterns in linens and dishes.

9780307596901_p0_v2_s114x166With so much energy emanating from the table, you can bet a lively discussion of Claire Messud’s novel ensued.  This selection particularly lent itself to a variety of comments, some of which opened my eyes to a different way of looking at the book.  

In a nutshell, The Woman Upstairs  is a riveting confession of a woman awakened, transformed, and betrayed by passion and desire for a world beyond her own.  Nora Eldridge, a thirty-seven-year-old elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who long ago abandoned her ambition to be a successful artist, has become the “woman upstairs,” a reliable friend and tidy neighbor always on the fringe of others’ achievements. Then into her classroom walks Reza Shahid, a child who enchants as if from a fairy tale. He and his parents—dashing Skandar, a Lebanese scholar and professor at the École Normale Supérleure; and Sirena, an effortlessly glamorous Italian artist—have come to Boston for Skandar to take up a fellowship at Harvard. When Reza is attacked by schoolyard bullies who call him a “terrorist,” Nora is drawn into the complex world of the Shahid family: she finds herself falling in love with them, separately and together. Nora’s happiness explodes her boundaries, until Sirena’s careless ambition leads to a shattering betrayal which is the source of many an interesting opinion.  

The book haunted me for several days as I pondered who did what to whom.  Each character was so needy, and that in itself can often lead to unhealthy relationships.  All in all, The Woman Upstairs is a good selection for a book group as it allows a multitude of opinions as well as provides insight to the differences in perception.  If your book club takes it on, I’d love to hear about your discussion.

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Better a Tree

Better a tree than a hunchback, dear, and if you don’t pay attention to your posture, that’s what you’ll turn into.

Reading these words in Margaret Atwood‘s The Blind Assassin triggered a memory that took me right back to being 10 years old, taller, I think, than anyone in my fifth grade class.  Vaguely, I remember hunching my shoulders, stooping, to appear the same height as my classmates, especially the boys who, if memory serves me correctly, were shorter than most of the girls.

Stooping must not have been well received in my family because someone, my aunt, mother or grandmother, said often, “If you don’t hold your shoulders up, you are going to grow into that position.”  At the time those words fell on deaf ears.  I wasn’t thinking about later, only the present, and I didn’t like being the tallest in my class.

When did my attitude change? One day, my aunt and I were on a bus and a youngish, attractive woman got on.  She was stooped, whether by nature or accident who knows.  My aunt whispered in my ear, “That’s the way you’re going to look if you don’t stand up straight.”  Well, that did it, no more hunching over for me no matter who I was taller than!

Today, I am a tree, not stooped or taller than most people, but having been reminded so many times to stand up straight, I’m a stickler for good posture. As my girls and hubby well know, I’m often guilty of telling them not to slump.  Guess what?  Their ears are as deaf to that advice as mine were at 10.

Just wondering, what childhood pointers have stayed with you over the years?

By the way, The Blind Assassin is one of the most beautifully crafted books I have read in a long time.  Put it on your reading list.

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Shameless Promotion!

Some people wish they could write a book. Some think about it.  Some actually do it!

My friend, whose pen name is Jane Hancock, did it, and I can’t give her enough credit for the accomplishment. Even more impressive is that what started out to be just one book has become a trilogy.  Now that’s a lot of words, and I predict  she has a lot more left in her!

The first installment of the trilogy, The Accidental Senator, is just out.  It’s quite an engaging read, a tall tale perhaps, but what else would you expect from a Texas author?  The main character is a savvy gal with a medical background who finds herself in more than one unexpected situation.  As the title implies, she becomes a senator quite by accident and proceeds to set Washington on its ear.  Maybe we need a little more of that, a discussion for another day!

The book is very entertaining and will be followed soon by The Accidental President.  Hmmm, wonder what that is about!  The Accidental Senator is not just a chick read.  My husband finished it in two days, thoroughly enjoying it and giving the author lots of credit for spinning a good tale.  Check it out.  The book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble and maybe even from your local bookstore.

 Shamelees promotion?  Yes, but my friend deserves it.

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