Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Paris Wife / by Paula McLain

In Chicago in 1920, Hadley Richardson is a twenty-eight-year-old St. Louis native who's feeling the effects of not having any marriage prospects, especially since many of her friends and onetime schoolmates have already tied the knot and are starting families. Then one night at a party, she meets a man named Ernest Hemingway who says to her straight away: "It's possible I'm too drunk to judge, but you might have something there." Hadley's instantly captivated by Ernest. His conventional good looks and charged charisma are great, but most of all it's his deeply passionate desire to become a writer that attracts her to him and, after only four months into their relationship, she finds herself engaged and then married to the man they call "Hem". Ernest wants to travel to Europe. They both do, but the money to live even modestly overseas just isn't available until a writer friend of Ernest's, author Sherwood Anderson, generously obliges their wishes, getting them the necessary funds and connections to set sail for Paris and its bohemian allure.

In the City of Lights, a place truly in of its more glittery stages, Ernest and Hadley are instantly welcomed into the well-known circle of famous expatriates that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald; James Joyce is also known to pop in on things once in a while too. The high life in Paris has its price though because, frankly, it's just not ideal for a monogomous married couple to begin their life. With time as their passions for each other inevitably wain, things grow more and more tenuous between the pair as Hadley becomes increasingly aware of her husband's fluctuating often desperate moods, his problematic binge drinking and tendency to flirt with other women. As Hadley struggles with jealousy and self-doubt and Ernest wrestles with his burgeoning writing career, they must confront the falsehood about themselves, their union and their futures.

The Paris Wife is a nice little book. A historical fiction-based-on-fact piece examining the personal history of not only one of America's better known writers, but an iconic world figure, it succeeds in illuminating a very interesting time, place and person. And though the writer's first marriage is almost, right from the get go, a doomed prospect, their's a charming sentimentality about the way McLain illuminates their time together through Hadley's first-person voice. It was an amicable enough marriage by all accounts despite it's failure and there was, for the most part, almost no recurring regrets or hard feelings lingering after their breakup from which Hemingway would marry three more times and Hadley once more. True to his reputation, however, Hemingway was definitely not an easy man to live with even if he was 'great at parties' and, of course, a dedicated literary craftsman. What's inferred from the text--deductions based more on fact than fiction--is that the author-legend probably never could have been a good husband type of man. His steady stream of extramarital affairs, moody instability, need for adventure and wanderlust lifestyle largely negated his ability to perform more domestic roles necessary for such an undertaking. (FIC MCLAIN)

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