Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mary Coin (Marisa Silver)

The Depression era photo of a woman with a hand on her face surrounded by her children is one of the most famous images ever taken.  Snapped by photographer Dorothea Lange in 1936, Migrant Mother shows a woman by the name of Florence Owens Thompson and is stunning in its stark simplicity.  In Marisa Silver's equally stunning novel Mary Coin, she reimagines the lives of the woman in the famous image and the photographer who took it.

Silver's story follows three fictional characters, Mary Coin, Vera Dare, and Walker Dodge.  Coin is a mother several times over who is just trying to do the best she can by her children during one of the darkest periods in American history.  Dare is having an equally hard time, attempting to reconcile her job of taking photographs of wealthy women with the depression that is happening outside her walls.  Walker is a professor of social history, and the reader is left guessing about how his story will eventually interact with Coin.

When Dare meets up with Coin and her children, she takes the photograph that eventually would become so famous.  Silver doesn't use Lange's and Thompson's real names in the novel, but her description of how the photo may have been taken is enthralling.  The professor's story seemed at times to be extraneous; I think the women's stories during the Great Depression and their lives thereafter would have been
enough to make this novel superb.