Mary Coin: A Novel

Paperback | February 25, 2014

byMarisa Silver

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Bestselling author Marisa Silver takes Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother photograph as inspiration for a story of two women—one famous and one forgotten—and their remarkable chance encounter.
In 1936, a young mother resting by the side of the road in central California is spontaneously photographed by a woman documenting migrant laborers in search of work. Few personal details are exchanged and neither woman has any way of knowing that they have produced one of the most iconic images of the Great Depression. In present day, Walker Dodge, a professor of cultural history, stumbles upon a family secret embedded in the now-famous picture. In luminous prose, Silver creates an extraordinary tale from a brief event in history and its repercussions throughout the decades that follow—a reminder that a great photograph captures the essence of a moment yet only scratches the surface of a life.

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From the Publisher

Bestselling author Marisa Silver takes Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother photograph as inspiration for a story of two women—one famous and one forgotten—and their remarkable chance encounter. In 1936, a young mother resting by the side of the road in central California is spontaneously photographed by a woman documenting migrant laborers...

Marisa Silver is the author of the novels The God of War (a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist) and No Direction Home; and two story collections, Alone With You and Babe in Paradise (a New York Times Notable Book and Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year). She lives in Los Angeles.

other books by Marisa Silver

Little Nothing
Little Nothing

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Alone With You: Stories
Alone With You: Stories

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The God of War: A Novel
The God of War: A Novel

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see all books by Marisa Silver
Format:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 8 × 5.5 × 0.63 inPublished:February 25, 2014Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0142180785

ISBN - 13:9780142180785

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it !! Wow, what a great story. Really go into the lives of all of the characters. The one complaint - if you can call it that - is that the writer left the 'return of Walker' a bit late in the story, I couldn't remember who he was. It did finally 'click' and I understand the background on everyone and why they appeared and reappeared when they did.
Date published: 2015-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great read. Recommend highly.
Date published: 2014-12-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Mary Coin A Novel A good story but not ond.
Date published: 2014-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This book sure puts ones own lifes troubles into perspective. This was a very enjoyable read. One of those books that make you look at your own life and troubles and truly appreciate the time we live in.
Date published: 2014-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Modern Day Grapes of Wrath Based on an iconic American photo, "The Migrant Mother", this book fictionalizes the tale behind the photograph. The story is told from the perspective of the mother in the photo, the photographer, and a photography historian. They all share similar struggles in their own personal lives, and their lives are interwoven in fascinating ways which are revealed as the book unfolds. As I neared the end, I couldn't put it down. It reminded me of The Grapes of Wrath in its frankness, although not quite as raw. If you like books about human struggle and fortitude, you will enjoy Mary Coin.
Date published: 2013-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A wonderful story Thoroughly enjoyed Marisa Silver's story of looking deeper into a photo and the real story behind it. I am always drawn to early 1900s Canadian & American history and how much has changed in a short 100 yrs. This story reminded me of Half broke Horses by Jeannette Walls, one of my favourites. Mary Coin has been added to my top favourite list!
Date published: 2013-10-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mary Coin Great read. I liked the structure of this book- with the story told using the the three main characters. The author goes back and forth from 1920 to 2011 smoothly tying the stories of these three people together.
Date published: 2013-10-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Mary Coin Excellent novel. Quick read.
Date published: 2013-08-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Mary Coin Excellent novel. Quick read.
Date published: 2013-08-21

Extra Content

Read from the Book

At first she thought someone had released a flock of birds into the room. The museum gallery whispered with the sound of wings and flight and she thought of the starlings wheeling through the flat Oklahoma sky, a solid flag of them waving in the currents of a wind. Was that seventy years ago? More?... A child’s cry broke through. Mary, always keen to a child’s distress, turned towards the sound. And there, across the room, hung the familiar charcoal gray shapes of the image that shadowed her life…. The gallery had grown quieter and, for a moment, Mary was alone with the picture. She saw her reflection in the glass. There they were. Two women named Mary Coin. If they met on the street in the high heat of a summer’s afternoon, they would be polite in the old fashioned way to show they meant one another no harm. “Hello,” they would say in passing. “My, but isn’t it a wretched day?”

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Mary Coin:  “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 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,“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.”—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