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Mary Coin Hardcover – March 7, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Blue Rider Press; 1 edition (March 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399160701
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399160707
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (315 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #119,787 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

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. Interweaving the stories of Mary Coin, a young mother grappling with the cruel realities of raising a family during an enduring economic crisis, and Vera Dare, the brilliant young photographer facing life-altering decisions of her own, this dual portrait investigates the depths of the human spirit, exposing the inner reserves of will and desire hidden in both women. Though their paths cross for a brief moment, their fates—stretching into succeeding generations—are permanently altered by the meeting. 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. --Margaret Flanagan

Review

A New York Times bestseller
A Los Angeles Times bestseller


Mary Coin is quite simply one of the best novels I have read in years. 'You'll know who you are when you start losing things,' says one character, and the story burns in this quietly emphatic way, only to erupt in moments of excruciating pain and beauty.  In her portrayal of a time in American history when survival was often a day-to-day thing, Silver drills down to the absolute essentials: family, love, loss, the perpetual uncertainty of life. Again and again I found myself wondering: How does she know that? Silver's wisdom is rare, and her novel is the work of a master."
—Ben Fountain, author of the 2012 National Book Award winner Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
 
“Marisa Silver renders the soul of an iconic image, giving it moving life. Mary Coin is a soaring work of imagination, dedication and history.”
—Mona Simpson, author of My Hollywood and Anywhere But Here
 
“An extraordinarily compassionate and wise novel, Mary Coin imagines the life of Dorothea Lange's iconic "Migrant Mother." What emerges, in Silver's nuanced, resonant telling, is a poignant exploration of a single life that touches many others, and a powerful, moving portrait of America during the Great Depression. Silver is one of those preternaturally gifted writers who can with the lightest of touches make the reader enter a world that feels as fully real as the one around us.”
—Meghan O’Rourke, author of The Long Goodbye

“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.”
—Margaret Flanagan, Booklist

“[A] superb new novel....Silver’s acute observations and understated style are evident here as are her matter-of-fact, unapologetic characters....mesmerizing...Silver has crafted a highly imaginative story that grabs the reader and won’t let go. A must-read for Silver fans that is sure to win over many new followers; the acclaimed author’s best work to date.”
Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

“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?”
O, The Oprah Magazine

“Gorgeous … This narrative of mid-century hope, loss, and disenchantment is both universal and deeply personal. With writing that is sensual and rich, [Silver] shines a light on the parts of personal history not shared and stops time without destroying the moment.”—Publisher’s Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

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

“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

“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.”USA Today

“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

“[A] compelling, hard-to-put down story....As the cover of the novel suggests, the story emanates from the photograph, “Migrant Mother,” taken by Dorothea Lange in 1936...it continues to haunt us. Just as Silver’s new novel will linger and haunt, attached as it is to the famous photo, which wonderfully deepens the story behind the making of history.”
—Nina Schuyler, TheRumpus.net

“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.”
People

“This resonant novel, teasing clues from a famous photograph, keeps us both looking and seeing. And admiring.”
Jeffrey Ann Goudie, Kansas City Star
 
“In Mary Coin, Silver takes a picture and spawns the proverbial thousand words many times over. The result is a stirring human portrait of two women and the times they lived in.”
—Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times

“Phenomenal … Silver writes with an unadorned impressionism that never feels self-conscious or fussy … History is not a succession of icons or frozen moments but of messy lives lived, of people doing what they can with what they’ve got. Therein lies the power of this novel, and the Novel: Silver wields it here with grace and devastating effectiveness.”—Antoine Wilson, New York Times Book Review
 
 “Piercing … Silver is a marvelous writer, capable of stirring profound emotions one moment, intellectual reflection the next.”—Joanna Connors, Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
Mary Coin is a lovely and deeply satisfying read … Each of these characters is fully realized and amazingly sympathetic; their cumulative story a worthy, nuanced tribute to an indelible image … In the end, she achieves the aims of her historian, discovering — explaining — how history actually happened to people.”—Eugenia Williamson, The Boston Globe
 
“What sets Mary Coin apart is that Mary’s life pulses with real and relatable humanity before and after her moment as an artistic subject … Mary Coin has a personal history that reads like one of Silver’s expertly drawn short stories, a series of disappointments and tragedies small and large rather than a dramatized biography …  Silver’s writing, in Vera and Mary’s glancing interaction (they meet only once, when she takes the picture) reads less as an indictment of Lange than as a sophisticated reading of her work, one with consequences extending into both fictional women’s futures.”—Daniel D’Addario, The New Republic

More About the Author

Marisa Silver made her fiction debut in The New Yorker when she was featured in that magazine's first "Debut Fiction" issue. Her collection of short stories, BABE IN PARADISE was published by W.W. Norton in 2001. That collection was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. In 2005, W.W. Norton published her novel, NO DIRECTION HOME. Her novel, THE GOD OF WAR, was published in 2008 by Simon and Schuster and is a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction. Her collection of stories, ALONE WITH YOU, was published by Simon and Schuster in2010. Her novel, MARY COIN, will be published by Penguin/blue rider press in 2013. .Winner of the O. Henry Prize, her fiction has been included in The Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, as well as other anthologies. To find out more, please visit marisasilver.com.

Customer Reviews

It is a book that makes you think, and feel, and remember.
Suzanne
If you enjoy books where the character's stories intersect, this is that kind of book.
Addiegirl
Well written...interesting weaving of history, characters and story.
Always Reading

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Based on the iconic photograph taken of a migrant worker and her children in the 1930s taken by Dorothea Lange, Silver constructs her novel around three characters: Mary Coin, an Oklahoma farm wife; Vera Dare, a portraitist who found her true calling in the faces of those who moved from camp to camp in search of work; and Walker Dodge, a professor who begins an exhaustive search of his own family's history after his father's death. Mary and Vera's stories begin in the 1920s, Walker inspired in his quest much later, in 2010. When Mary marries Toby Coin in Oklahoma, she has no idea the devastating environmental damage that will drive them and their children to a life on the road and itinerant labor in the California mills and later in the fields. By the 30s, the Great Depression has hit, people living in tents, broken down cars, standing in bread lines, jobs scarce.

Throughout this ordeal, Mary, though struggling, is luminous, determined to provide for her family, her once young face weathered by hard times and exhaustion, her children clinging to her for security. When Dare stops at the side of the road to take Mary's picture with the children, neither are aware that hers will become the face of a generation. Dare's career began as an East Coast society portraitist, but in San Francisco in the 30s, she gains employment with the government, documenting the conditions of migrant workers in the camps. Crippled by polio as a child, Dare is sensitive to her deformity, painfully conscious of her failings as a mother in pursuit of a career, a career that opens up after the publication of the photograph of Mary Coin. It is that same image that captures the attention of Walker Dodge in Porter, California, years later.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Rita Sydney VINE VOICE on May 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If this were just the story of the lives of Vera Dare, photographer, and Mary Coin, migrant field worker, and how their lives intersect in 1935 it would be a 5 star read.

The women come to life on the page: their dreams and disappointments, how they became who they are, how they cope in the Depression raising their kids.

Then, a year before the taking of the photo that becomes iconic of the era, Mary Coin catches the eye of Charlie Dodge, son of Dodge Farms where she's picking oranges. He follows her around, she's been widowed 4 years and is more than willing.....there's sex, no promises, no demands, just sex in the field.

It will turn out that the third main character in the story, the present day Walker Dodge will follow clues back to the likelihood that Mary Coin was his grandmother.

Not a bad plot. Not unlikely. Except that I never understood why Charlie Dodge wanted Mary Coin.

For all of the rich detail the author provides readers to show us who Vera and Mary and Walker are -- what motivates them -- Charlie Dodge is a blank.

Maybe if the picture of Mary Coin (i.e., Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange) were not on the cover of the book I would not be so unsatisfied. But the author's inspiration came from that photograph so I have to pay attention to it.

I see that Mary's not beautiful, not voluptuous, not young. Being sexy is not on her mind. What is it that makes Charlie want her?

Why does he like sex in the rough with a destitute mother of 6 working in the fields owned by his family? Is this a pattern with him? Does it make him feel powerful? Is the extra money she finds at the end of the week in her pay charity from him or payment?
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Spindrift VINE VOICE on March 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It was with much anticipation and excitement that I dove into "Mary Coin". I am a John Steinbeck enthusiast, my family lived this story in 1930's California's central valley, and my favorite all time book is "The Grapes of Wrath". I pore over and have a desire to collect Dorothea Lange prints like most people do Monets and Cezannes. So it is more than fair to say that my expectations for this book were very high.

Marissa Silver divides her narrative into three parts. She gives us Mary's story (her fictional Florence Owens Thompson, the real subject of the photograph "Migrant Mother"), Vera (her fictional Dorothea Lange), and Walker Dodge ( a totally fictional character). The literary device of fictionalizing real people and events is an interesting and entertaining one, allowing the author to give whimsy and flourish to historical episodes that could very well have happened within the context of reality. I feel that Silver is most successful with the character of Mary. She begins with Mary's childhood in dust bowl Oklahoma and the reader accompanies her growing family on their infamous journey to California to try and make a living in "the golden state" with thousands of other migrant families. The pain and visceral angst of trying to feed her sad and hungry children is palpable in the story telling. Mary is drawn with a nuance and droll personality that I found to be very credible, she has been ingrained with the fatalistic aura of her mother, Doris, and deals with life's disappointments with a weariness that the photo that she is famous for so realistically depicts. The highlight of this book, for me, was how the author consistently maintained Mary's unique and distinctive personality from childhood all the way through to her old age.
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