“Mary Coin,” by Marisa Silver
Reviewed By Nina Schuyler
March 12th, 2013
Novels are like big stretchy bags, so willing and able to hold a multitude of voices. There’s a fancy name for this—heteroglossia, from the Russian linguist Mikhail Bakhtin, who believed the power of the novel originates in the gathering of and the conflict between the different voices.
Yet as the voices accumulate and the cacophony grows loud, the difficulties of writing a compelling story are compounded. Multiple central characters get feisty, competing with one another for time and attention. Suddenly one character dominates and wins over reader’s hearts. Then it becomes a matter of racing—or worse, skimming—through the other plot lines to get back to the favored one. And if you add to the explosive mix a central character who happens to be an iconic figure, symbolizing an entire era, well, a novel is hard enough to write, and now this?
Marisa Silver in her new novel, Mary Coin, takes all this on, and the result is 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 at a pea-pickers’ camp in Nipomo, California. The woman in the photo is Florence Owens Thompson, who has been fictionalized by Silver and renamed Mary Coin. Lange, too, is reimagined and renamed Vera Dare. And a third story line involves Walker Dodge, a social historian who, upon cleaning out his deceased father’s house, finds the iconic photo tucked away in one of his grandfather’s books and begins to wonder why—why is it there?
The review appears on The Rumpus. To keep reading, click on: http://therumpus.net/2013/03/mary-coin-by-marisa-silver/
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