The new work, she says, “was the hard-
est book I’ve ever written, much harder
than I thought it would be. I would have
become an accountant if I knew writing
books could be this hard.”
The challenge was braiding history—
specifically, a thin slice of history that took
place in the tiny town of Cushing, Maine,
in the early 1900s—with fiction.
“It’s about a real person who lived in
the world, and a real artist whose relatives
are still alive. Andrew Wyeth’s wife is still
alive, his children are still alive. And mem-
bers of Christina Olson’s family are still
alive,” says Kline. “I set myself the task of
adhering to the facts of the story as much
as I could.”
A further difficulty was the physical
handicap of one of the central characters.
“Christina Olson literally does not get up
out of her chair,” Kline explains. “Nothing
happens, so I had to create every second of
drama. And my biggest problem when I’m
reading books is I get bored easily by long
passages, so I wanted this to be really tight,
where you feel you’re moving fast from
She pulls that off through a pair of love
stories, one romantic and the other—the
one between Wyeth and Olson—platonic.
“Christina Olson was someone who was
cut off at every opportunity,” partly be-
cause of her handicap (the cause of which
was undetermined). “Wyeth saw her and
realized the person she was,” says Kline. “I
think he adored her. And I think he was the
only person who understood her fully.”
Kline might be a close second.
Olson first entered Kline’s life when
Kline was around 8. Her parents, professors whom she describes as “hippies who
loved art and culture,” left their home in
the South in the 1970s to raise her and her
three sisters in England, later returning
to the States and settling in Maine. Their
art and culture quest brought them to the
Olson House, now a museum in Cushing.
Kline’s father, William Baker, later gave
her a woodcut of Christina’s World; the
painting reminded Baker of his daughter.
Then, around three years ago, she was
having wine in Maplewood with her friend
Marina Budhos, a local writer.
“We were throwing around the idea of
writing about someone known, like an art-
ist, because she knows a lot about Gauguin.
She said, ‘I always wondered if you wanted
to write about Christina’s World. For some
reason that painting reminds me of you.’
She said it, and I was just like, absolutely.
That’s my book. Nothing like that has ever
happened to me before,” Kline says.
That moment of recognition may
“We’ve been together since I moved
have had something to do with Olson’s
temperament and character, which left a
lasting impression. “I really love tough old
broads,” Kline says. “Someone once told
me the best thing about getting reviews
is they help you get to know what your
themes are, and I think that’s true. I once
read a review for one of my books that said,
‘She writes about old ladies.’ And I really
do. I love old ladies.”
Kline did much of the writing in the
19th-century ship captain’s house in
Southwest Harbor, Maine, where she
spends a chunk of the summer. The house
provides solitude that doesn’t come easily
in Montclair, where Kline has cultivated
a rich social life. She is part of a group of
local women writers who meet every four
to six weeks in a member’s home.
here. We don’t show our work, we just talk
about the business and commiserate. And
everyone is really productive right now.
It’s a really cool period where our kids are
“Now we have what feels like a lot of
all getting older and going off to school,
and we’re writing our butts off,” she says.
Two of Kline’s kids have already left
what she calls the fishbowl, meaning
Montclair’s deep suburbia, with its artisitic
community, progressive mindset and
cultural offerings. She and her husband,
David Kline, an executive at the Showtime
network, have one son, Eli, 16, a junior
at Montclair High, still at home. Their
oldest, Hayden, 22, is currently taking a
year off from Yale to sing and travel with
the Whiffenpoofs, Yale’s a cappella group.
Middle son Will, 20, is a junior at Duke.
house,” says Kline. But she wouldn’t trade
it. “Our life here has been very safe and
manageable,” she says of Montclair.
The business of literary stardom feels
more like a coin toss. Kline’s calendar is
filled with engagements behind the new
book, including a February 24 reading at
the Montclair Public Library. But she’s
not yet sure readers will love her hard-to-write novel and its hard-to-know
main character as much as she does.
“I’m grateful that the publisher is doing
everything they can to give this book a
shot,” she says.