Guide Mary Coin: A Novel

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It was this picture, hanging in a gallery at New York's Museum of Modern Art, that inspired acclaimed writer and filmmaker Marisa Silver to pen her new novel, "Mary Coin.

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But beyond that, the author creates the worlds of these two disparate women in the early 20th century, beginning when each is aching to begin her life in earnest, and ending with each on her deathbed, summing up the failings and accomplishments of every pain-filled decade.

Silver weaves these stories together with a third strand that stretches to the present. Walker Dodge, a contemporary social historian, finds a newspaper clipping of the famous "Migrant Mother" among the possessions of his recently deceased father. With this fragile artifact in hand, he tries to reconstruct the narrative of his own fraught family history.


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What these characters have in common, even more than their relationships to a photograph, is a yearning for emotional connection. Mary's first family is one of loss - populated by her dead father and sister, her Cherokee grandfather lynched for murdering a white man, and her stoic, almost fatalistic mother, whose refrain, "There's nothing I can do about that," foreshadows the powerlessness and stubborn resolve that will mark Mary's entire life. The men who wed her and bed her also take a toll on Mary - her first husband succumbs to tuberculosis, leaving her alone with six children to support.

Weary and weathered at age 32, Mary's casual encounter with the boss' son among the orange groves leads to a loss so great that it haunts the rest of her life. For Vera, connections with the opposite sex also come at a high price. She fantasizes about finding her father, who disappears one day, perhaps trying to outrun a financial scandal, perhaps in pursuit of a young Polish girl. While her rigid German immigrant mother is embarrassed by the betrayal, it is a staggering blow to Vera, since she believes he was the only man who could see past her leg, twisted by polio, to find her beautiful.

Desperate for attention, Vera falls in with an avant-garde crowd of bohemians in San Francisco. In an event that feels like performance art, the young portrait photographer agrees to a hasty marriage to an inconstant artist who disappears for weeks at a time to paint.

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Eventually forced to support herself and her two sons through her photos, Vera relinquishes the children to a boardinghouse during the week, and tries to mother them on weekends - an abandonment that her grown children never forgive. In the present, Walker works as a researcher, professor and historian, teaching his students to look for the truth behind photos, and to find connections between seemingly unrelated items of material culture. His own life, however, is a jumble of puzzle pieces that refuse to come together on either intellectual or emotional levels.

Estranged from his family, Walker is nonetheless charged with arranging his father's affairs upon his death. Cleaning out the family homestead, he searches for the essence of his father, a man he never really knew.

Mary Coin (Hardcover)

At the same time he struggles with his place in the lives of his shrill ex-wife, eager young son and troubled teenage daughter. How do they assert independence in their relationships? What does this imply about the influence of objects and photographs on memory? Do photographs manipulate—or even create—memories? Relate to modern-day culture. Does our constant documentation via cell phone photography and social media manipulate memory?

Walker, Mary, and Vera all express guilt over how they have raised their children. Discuss their concerns and characterize their parenting styles. How do they interact with their children? What do they celebrate about parenthood? What do they regret? Explore this in connection with the culture of poverty that Mary was raised in. Why does she have that reaction?

Book Review: "Mary Coin," A Novel by Marisa Silver. A Beautiful Story About Women - Bedlam Farm

Is she ever comfortable with her fame? Discuss the differences in the way the two women experience this encounter. What are the ethical ramifications for both women? What does this assert about the relationship between the viewer and the subject in art? About perception and truth?

Questions issued by the publisher. Mary Coin Discussion Guide: Home. Marisa Silver Photo via Information about the author is available at her website.


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Goodreads Reviews goodreads. Mary Coin Reading Guide. Additional Interviews with Marisa Silver marisasilver. In this elegant, finely wrought new collection, Alone With You, Silver has created eight indelible stories that mine the complexities of modern relationships and the unexpected ways love manifests itself. An autobiography told in poems, this selection of work spans more than 40 years, beginning with the avant-garde arts movement and political activism of the s.

A mixture of intense political poems, intimate love poems, and provocative reflections, it traces the journey of a woman intimately involved with many significant events of the 20th century. Young Will Burton struggles to make sense of a redefined family after his father's disappearance, young Rogelio Augilar risks his life to illegally cross into Mexico to search for his father, and teenage Marlene McClure leaves her Midwestern home in search of a father she never knew.

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Discussion Questions From litlovers. Marisa Silver takes Dorothea Lange's 'Migrant Mother' photograph as inspiration for a breathtaking reinvention, a story of two women, one famous and one forgotten, and of the remarkable legacy of their chance encounter. Mary Coin Large Print. Mary Coin book on CD.