Photo: Marko Metzinger/Studio D

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Mary Coin
336 pages; Blue Rider Press
Dorothea Lange's 1936 portrait of a mother with her children, her tired eyes gazing past the camera, became a timeless representation of suffering during the Great Depression. That image inspired author Marisa Silver's transfixing new novel, Mary Coin (Blue Rider), a recasting of the life of the photograph's subject. Silver deftly sprinkles historical fact into her fictional narrative, telling the story of Mary, whose hardscrabble Oklahoma childhood ends at 17, when she marries Toby, the town's "sickly boy," and the two set off for California to find work in the wood mills. When Toby dies, leaving her on her own with their six children, Mary is forced to work in the fields, moving from farm to farm picking oranges or cotton. Vera Dare is a photographer who's survived polio and now roams the country in a quest to capture the nameless faces of migrant workers, hoping to "take a photograph that would make the story that much more sharply true"; her career is ultimately immortalized by one such shot. Walker Dodge is a modern-day history professor who discovers a connection between the woman in the photo and his recently deceased father. Silver intricately links the three characters, creating a raw and emotional tale that leaves readers with a lingering question: Do photographs illuminate or blur the truth?
— Abbe Wright