Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Paris WifeA deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.
Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill-prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.
A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.” –

I’m sorry, y’all. I really am so sorry. I hate being a downer two days in a row, I really do. But I have to call ‘em like I see ‘em and, folks, we have another bust on our hands. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain had the opportunity to be so much more but, unfortunately, it fell short of what it could have been. The first three-fourths of the book moved so slowly and was filled with so much meaningless detail that I wanted to scream. Here is the gist of things:

Hadley met Ernest (Hemmingway, in case you weren’t aware). They knew each other for a week, wrote a bunch of letters to each other long-distance, then got married and moved to Paris where they lived a poor but glamorous life. Much name-dropping ensues here: Fitztgerald, Stein, Pound, etc, etc. They were all good buddies. A lot of time was spent detailing what everyone ate and wore and how they styled their hair. Particularly exciting were all of the pet names that Hadley and Ernest had for each other. I made note of a few of them; allow me to share them with you:

Tatie, Tiny, Kitty, Kitty Cat, Cat, Feather Kitty, Feather Cat, Little Cat, Hem, Hash, Hashedad, Hashovitch, Bird, Wem, Begonia, Wemedge, Mrs. Popplethwaite…

It is not until Ernest and Hadley’s marriage begins to crumble that Hadley actually finds her voice – and some insight – and things get a little more interesting (this would be about the last quarter of the novel). Of course, she is still fairly naive about a lot of things. After “accidentally” becoming pregnant (Ernest did not want kids yet) and having to stay home with the little one, looking a tad too SAHM-ish, the couple becomes friends with a young and lively woman who quickly becomes embroiled in their lives. Hadley somehow does not note any interest Ernest is showing toward their new friend. They even bring her along on their trips abroad! At one point, Hadley wakes up in bed with Ernest… and their very naked young friend on Ernest’s other side. Are any of you surprised that this lovely young ingénue (Pauline Marie Pfeiffer) becomes Ernest’s second wife? Hadley was. Ah, silly youth…

After the divorce and over the many years, however, Ernest and Hadley still retained some sort of affection for each other. We know, as stated above in the book summary that Hemmingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley. And Hadley… Well, Hadley had this to say about Ernest:

He was such an enigma, really – fine and strong and weak and cruel. An incomparable friend and a son of a bitch.

Awww, so sweet. Unfortunately, the book was not so sweet. The Paris Wife by Paula McClain dragged along so very frustratingly slowly for me. There was too much attention to unnecessary detail; in fact, this probably could have been a short story minus all of the meaningless drivel. As I’ve said previously, this tale had the potential to make a great novel; it is truly unfortunate that that did not come to fruition.

2 stars, sister

Source: Lincoln City Libraries Digital Downloads

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