Marisa Silver talks about her acclaimed new novel, MARY COIN. It’s about a famous photograph of a migrant worker taken during the Great Depression. And Jess Walter discusses his collection of short stories set during the Great Recession, WE LIVE IN WATER.
When Francesca was growing up, one of her favorite books was the collection of photographs, The Family of Man — and one of her favorite photos in the book was Dorothea Lange’s iconic portrait, “Migrant Mother.” She would pore over this photo, wondering “who was this person?” “What was she thinking, as she gazed with such intensity off to the left of the camera?”
Well, we can never know. That’s something the subject of the photo, Florence Owens Thompson, didn’t explain when she came forth years later to complain to Dorothea Lange about the notoriety the photographer had brought her.
But in her new novel, MARY COIN, Marisa Silver has fashioned a sort of answer — albeit a fictional one.
In a fascinating reinvention, Silver creates a new story about the photographer and her subject, to explore the distance between the truth and our interpretation of it. It’s also a story about the grit and endurance of the human spirit in hard times. And there’s another story woven into the book — that of a contemporary academic researching the photograph who finds out that his relationship to the two women is anything but academic.
Marisa Silver is the author of several novels and a collection of short stories. We’ve spoken to her previously about her novel THE GOD OF WAR and her story collection, Alone With You.
Read an excerpt from Mary Coin
Jess Walter’s last book was Beautiful Ruins, which took as its subjects the privileged — screen actors, writers and those who cater to them. But Jess Walter himself came from a working class family in the Pacific Northwest. His wonderful new collection of stories set in that region, WE LIVE IN WATER, situates itself squarely within the realm of those who struggle to survive in America’s Great Recession.
To quote from the book’s description: the “stories in We Live in Water range from comic tales of love to social satire and suspenseful crime fiction. This is a world of lost fathers and redemptive con men, of personal struggles and diminished dreams.”
Jess Walter is the author of six novels. He was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award for The Zero and winner of the 2005 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Citizen Vince.
Read an excerpt from one of the stories in We Live In Water, “Don’t Eat Cat”