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Mary Coin: A Novel Paperback – February 25, 2014
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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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“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.”
“This resonant novel, teasing clues from a famous photograph, keeps us both looking and seeing. And admiring.”
—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.”
—Los Angeles Times
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Top Customer Reviews
The cover of this book alone is enough to make you want to read this book. MIGRANT MOTHER is a picture that speaks volumes and one that makes one wonder exactly what is going through that woman's mind. You can see the despair, sadness, worry, her children nestled against her. What does she face daily? How does she carry on?
When you read this FICTIONAL book based upon this picture of MIGRANT MOTHER you will find out to a degree. The hauntingly beautiful woman in MIGRANT MOTHER is Florence Owens Thompson who was sitting on the side of the road during the Depression when a photographer, Dorothea Lange, took her picture. If you go to WIKI, you will be able to see all of the pictures taken of Florence and her family. They are heart-breaking, true, and just ONE family involved in trying to scratch out a living during the Great Depression.
Marisa Silver takes this picture and writes a story about the two women involved giving Florence the fictional name, Mary Coin, and photographer Lange the fictional name of Vera Dare. She makes up a story that is based upon history and tells the story of the two women. Enter into the picture other fictional characters that come into their lives. Silver takes you back in history and recaps how devastating the Depression was and how it effected everyone in all its gory detail.
I think the TRUE story of Florence Owens Thompson is rather fascinating, along with the life of Dorothea Lange. Both lived long lives. Both had many men in their lives and children. Both had extremely hard lives in different ways and each woman handled their fates uniquely.
Florence Owens Thompson was raised poor and always worked hard. She married young, had seven children, and was widowed. She lived with her kids in tents and shacks, killed birds for meals, and slept in her car. She picked oranges, cotton, and peas. While she worked in the hot suffocating heat and sun her children played in the fields next to her. She worked for pennies a day.
Dorothea Lange survived polio at a young age but never fully recovered from the disease. She left her children during the Depression with another family so she could go on the road and take these pictures of hard-working migrant workers. I think if both women had had the time and energy to sit and talk that fateful day they would have discovered they had plenty in common while at the same time being so different from each other.
The writing was good and moved quickly, although at times the story itself didn't ring true especially when concerning Vera's life. I especially enjoyed the parts about Mary Coin [Florence] and what her life could have been like. She was a strong, hard-working, stalwart person, doing everything and anything she could to keep her family fed and together. Her disquieting picture has always been a favorite of mine and always will be.
If you like historical fiction this could be a book you would enjoy.