Monday, June 27, 2011

The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife, Paula McLain

I wrote a research paper on Ernest Hemingway sometime in high school.  I had just read the Sun Also Rises and he was one of the people on a list we could choose from and he was a great American writer and that appealed to me.

After I wrote my research paper, I never really liked him all that much.

The Paris Wife is a work of fiction focusing on Hem's early life in Chicago and Paris, with his first wife, Hadley Richardson.  The story is told from Hadley's point of view.  She was a good strong, midwesterner, and she was a level, even soul for the tumultuous, manic depressive Hemingway (manic depressive is my diagnosis).  He clung to her after, because she made him feel better and safer after his war years, and his jilting by Agnes, the nurse who healed him.

I mean seriously you could look at all his issues and just talk about how he was looking for a mother figure, and what that means about his mom, but this story is about Hadley.

Anyway.  So Hadley and Hem take off for Paris on next to nothing, live on next to nothing, and he's a reporter working on writing and they meet all sorts of fabulous people in Paris (Gertrude Stein, Scott Fitzgerald) and it's all fun and games and then Hadley gets pregnant on accident.

Things start falling off (at least in the books interpretation) right about then.  Hem was not ready to be a dad and Hadley just weeks before the baby announcement had lost his entire lifes work on a train.  These two events were near each other, and in the book Hemingway blames his loss of trust in Hadley on the loss of the work ... but I'm thinking the baby cramping his style didn't help much either.

Everyone knows Hemingway's story is not a happy one, so this book is not very cheerful.  There are pockets of happiness but after Bumby is born it's all down hill.  He had multiple wives (5) so their marriage was going to end, and it did, with Hemingway's affair with Pauline.  I don't believe that Pauline was his first affair (she certainly wasn't his last) but that's sort of what the book eludes to, at least from Hadley's perspective.

This was difficult to get through because the beginning is so very dry and not much happens as Hem is looking for friends to help him get noticed in the literary community, and as he tries to write his great novel.  After the baby is born it got more interesting for me, and I was able to finish quickly.

Hemingway is one of my favorite writers (probably because I know more about him than the others) but I say that with a caveat; he really was a terrible human being.  This book, though a work of fiction, didn't do anything to change that impression.  Worth reading.

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