If you've done any studying up on the period in American history
known as the Great Depression, you've come across a famous, iconic
image--an image that in many minds sums up the desperation of the
times for the most neglected and impoverished of America's citizens.
It's a migrant farm worker, book ended by skinny children, sickly baby
in her lap, seeming to gaze off into a precarious future rather than
at the photographer. Marissa Silver saw that picture and did
something truly creative with it. She wove it into a novel told
across seven decades in three voices.
Of course one of the voices is that of the woman. She's
stranded by her broken car, waiting to see if the man travelling with
her family can get the radiator mended. The nearby field holds no
prospect of work due to an early frost that killed off the peas. Her
children are painfully hungry, down to one meal a day. The baby in
her lap is burning up with fever.
Not surprisingly another of the voices is that of the fictitious
photographer. Vera is a woman who feels plain and defective, having
survived polio as a child, only to be left with a pronounced limp and
facing the ignorance and cruelty of schoolmates. The government
contract to photograph migrant workers has been a godsend, a chance to
maybe earn enough money so she and her husband can afford a place big
enough for them and their two sons.
The third voice, that of Walker, a middle age man, starts out as
a mystery. He's a professor of cultural history, happiest when he's
in the field studying the seemingly mundane papers and objects of
other poeple's lives. He is divorced, parenting teens at a distance.
"This is all that I am: a marginally respected academic, a failed
husband, a deserter of children." In the wake of the death of his
father, he must clean out the family home, make sense of the past.
Any of the three main characters would make for a fascinating
narrative. But the braiding together of their lives makes for a story
that is far more than the sum of its pieces.
On a personal note, I learned last week that I passed my UMaine's Got
Talent audition and made the line up. So November 20 I get to recite
my poem Silver Foxes to a larger audience than I'm used to. YOWZA!
A great big shout out goes out to the fraternity guys who are making
this all possible.
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod