Mary Coin, a novel by Marisa Silver, is one of my favorite novels. Silver takes base elements like poverty, homelessness,dust storms and love and transforms them into a valued amalgam.
Mary is part Cherokee, all Okie and tough.. Her claim to fame as a child is a newspaper picture of her grandfather, an accused murderer, who walks into a burning building rather than face the authorities. Mary learns many lessons from her mother, but the greatest is how to build a foundation. Silver takes us in Mary's beat up truck through field after field, watching her fill the bread baskets of America as she and her children share husks of corn and scavenge for fallen birds. Yet Mary holds her children tight as she remembers her mother's grief when Mary's younger sister died.
Not only does Silver create a noble family, the penniless Coins, but she also creates a wealthy dynasty, the Dodges. Their orange groves finance the building of their homes, but do not sustain their shelters for the dust ups in family life. Walker Dodge is a descendant and a social historian. He searches through pieces of waste, old broken things, discarded pictures, scarred furniture trying to find the past and tell its story and his story. He averts his eyes as his daughter, Alice, starves for his affection after his family breaks apart.
Lastly, Silver shows us a photographer, Vera Dare, who is able to recognize strength, love and harshness as she takes the picture of Mary Coin, and shows it to the world. Her photo is so expressive and impressive that no one can dare look away. Vera, stricken with polio as a child learns to walk with a limp, but develops a keen eye. She poses her subject so that the truth is seen by everyone who looks on her "Mary's" face. Although Vera's subject is clearly maternal, Vera, herself is more ambitious than motherly. Vera subjects her own children to foster care so that she can show the dismantling of American life.
All in all, Silver tells three great stories which are melded into one. Her prose are crafted masterfully which add to the strength of this novel. I truly felt the hunger of the Coins, the Dodges and the Dares. I saw each of these families through different lenses and from many angles. I also followed the characters as they tried to dodge their realities. Marisa Silver is more a magician than an "alchemist" because this book is golden!