Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Just enough history mixed with my character connection

I will admit that Ernest Hemingway is not my favorite writer. I appreciate his style; I have enjoyed the books of his I've read. But I've never felt the connection to character that defines my favorite works.
It's not him. It's me.
And I didn't feel any connection to the Hemingway I met in Paula McLain's "The Paris Wife." Not that McLain likely intended me to.
McLain, a Clevelander (woo-hoo!!!) has penned a fictionalized account of the relationship between Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson.
This Hemingway is self-centered, ambitious and monogamy-challenged. His wife struggles to not lose herself in a marriage so dominated by his needs.
Hadley sees herself through her husband's eyes - whether it's what he thinks of how she dresses or styles her hair or her ability to discuss his work.

McLain has crafted a wonderful slice of life of Paris in the 1920s, with just enough real detail that it enhances her story rather than detracts from it. When I'm reading fiction based to a degree on fact, I like to get the sense that I'm learning a little about an era or a real person, not be hit with so much data so I feel like I'm reading a textbook. Paris Wife strikes the right notes.

This is among my favorite passages. In one graph, I get a sense of the city and learn a whole lot about both Ernest and Hadley.

It rained nonstop that spring, but even in the rain, Paris was Ernest's smorgasbord. He knew it all and lovde to walk through it at night especially, dropping into cafes to see who was there and who wasn't. He was recognizable everywhere with his long, unruly hair and tennis shoes and patched jacket, the quintessential Left bank writer. It was ironic to see him become the very sort of artist that had made him cringe two years before, and a little painful for me, too. I missed him and I wasn't sure I recognized him all the time, but I didn't want to hold him back. Not when things were finally beginning to hit for him.

And did I mention the author is from Cleveland! (And now I want to go back and re-read "A Farewell to Arms" and "The Sun Also Rises.")

Sit in with the Beauty and the Book book club as they chat with McLain.

- Tricia Ambrose

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