In 1936, in the midst of the Great Depression, photographer Dorothea Lange took a photograph for the Federal Resettlement Program that would become the most iconic image of that unforgettable time in American history. Her subject was Florence Owens Thompson, a thirty-two-year-old Native American and mother of seven, whose arresting face became the defining symbol of American poverty. Mary Coin is a novel inspired by that photograph.
Three vibrant characters anchor Mary Coin: the migrant mother herself; Vera Dare, the young photographer wrestling with ambition and the lingering effects of childhood Polio, who is forced to abandon her own children in order to work; and Walker Dodge, a present-day professor of cultural archeology, who discovers a secret to his family history in the picture. In luminous, exquisitely observed prose, author Marisa Silver deftly weaves the few known facts of the famous photograph and its subject with a captivating plot and multigenerational narrative, and burnishes this remarkable fiction with profound explorations of memory and identity. Though we want to believe a great photograph will capture the essence of its subject, an image, in the end, only scratches the surface of the truth.