Marisa Silver’s Mary Coin, based off the famous “Migrant Mother” photograph, proves this analogy doesn’t necessarily extend to literature. Expertly, Silver weaves the stories of three seemingly disconnected characters. Of course, there’s the titular Mary Coin, there’s modern day professor Walker Dodge, and Depression-era photographer Vera Dare. Upon first glance, based solely on timing, you could see how the first and last of that group may interact but it’s the true joy of this novel to discover the ways in which all three characters are tied together.
The novel takes you on a journey starting in near-present day with Walker Dodge, a professor in California, dealing with his father’s death and distance from his family as a result of over-dedication to work. We soon learn about a young Mary (soon to be Mary Coin), growing up and ultimately leaving Oklahoma and her struggles to survive as a migrant worker in the 1930s, all the while raising a small army of children. Lastly, there’s Vera Dare, a photographer with a Polio-caused limp, two children, an absent husband, and a career blossomed out of tragedy.
As you travel through the years with these characters, you begin to realize that the specific set of circumstances that tied these three people together aren’t their only bonds. The absolutes of family, love, responsibility, truth—these are the elements that connect us, stretching across generations.
The truth I know is this: I didn’t choose to read this book. In fact, it was given to me by a man I know only through e-mail and while I was open to giving it a shot, I had no honest expectations.
The further truth is that this book was not (I repeat, was not) written for someone like me. I’m a 26-year old guy who likes basketball, going out and chasing girls, and rap music. I highly doubt Marisa Silver (or the marketing team behind the book) thought of someone like me when they thought of Mary Coin.
However, after about fifteen to twenty pages, I was hooked. I wanted to find out not only how each of the three character’s stories progressed, but ultimately how they were intertwined. When I was drunkenly stumbling home a few nights ago after a late night romp in New York City, I had the following thought go through my head: “I wonder what happens to Mary after her husband Toby passed away…” Not, “I really should text (this girl)” or, “Does Domino’s deliver this late?”
No, I found myself locked into the story, and frankly, if there’s a more telling endorsement of a novel, I’m not sure what it is.