Mary Coin

Written by Marisa Silver
Review by Jeanne Mackin

Think of the Depression, and the first image that comes to mind is Dorothea Lange’s wrenching photograph of the prematurely aged mother, surrounded by her children, staring off into the distance.

Mary Coinis the fictionalized story of that photograph, with Mary standing in for the actual subject, Florence Owens Thompson, and Vera Dare standing in for Dorothea Lange.

Since so little is known of the actual Thompson, this was 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. Mary Coin is Native American, as was the real Thompson, and the story begins in her youth and follows her through marriage, widowhood, poverty, and the wanderings of the homeless during the Dust Bowl era and the Depression.

Silver’s story is artful in a way that life often is not, carrying the story of one family through several generations. She assigns meaning and suggests redemptive closure. This novel is simply not to be missed. It is memorable.