Could Paris Ever Be Uncool?
I’m pretty much sure that Paris has never really gone out of style. It’s been the inspiration or setting for novels, movies and all forms of entertainment. This past spring, Paris seemed pervasive when David McCullough released his historic The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, Owen Wilson showed up in Midnight in Paris (schmaltzy!) and Gertrude Stein opened up her marvelous private collection at the SF MOMA.
But I couldn’t ignore any longer The Paris Wife by Paula McLain sitting on the best seller list for weeks on end.
First: rock on Hemingway.
You were quite a hottie in all the right circles.
Second: damn good. one of the best books I read this year.
Recommenders of this book treaded lightly–I guess they feared I would pan it. However, I ravaged this book in 3 days and thought it was a complete delight. If you read this review by the NYT, you can see that makes me a complete dolt. Apparently, it kind of stunk. But I disagree. It reminded me a bit of Loving Frank about Frank Lloyd Wright. Fiction, but closely tied to the truth in a way that made it captivatingly voyeuristic. I am enraptured with Paris and the “lost generation” too, I suppose. I just couldn’t put this book down.
The story is told in the voice of Hadley, Hemingway’s first wife. This passionate soulmate falls in love with Hemingway and is with him in the early years as he struggles to find his voice and talent. She dutifully supports his moody, jealous and brooding days of journalism and poetry and short stories and ultimately, his publishing success with The Sun Also Rises. We ride shotgun through the early years of their marriage and the birth of their son and ultimately, the demise of their relationship because of Hemingway’s wandering eye. It is painful and sad and human and personal. We don’t end up loving Hemingway–and yet we cut him slack as a tortured, brilliant artist. Hadley earns our respect as she walks away. Her voice and story is strong. She will likely love Hemingway til the day she dies, but she can’t endure the crash crash of a life.
The Paris Wife led me next to A Moveable Feast by Hemingway himself. As all of you might be able to remember from 11th grade high school english (I couldn’t), AMF was published after Hemingway’s death and never quite completed. It’s a collection of stories of his life in Paris and a fantastic pairing to the book. No doubt MacLain used this in her research, as there our moments which occurred that are now told from Hemingway’s point of view. One of the most painful in the Paris Wife is when Hadley leaves all of Hemingway’s manuscripts on the train (or they are stolen), including the originals. It is heartbreaking for everyone and only made all the more powerful by reading of this terrible tragedy through the eyes of Ernest himself.
Along with Hemingway, both books give you ring side seats for the most amazing players–F. Scott (a sorry drunk), Zelda Fitzgerald (crazy), Ford Maddox Ford (emerging), Ezra Pound (sensitive), Picasso (fascinating) and Getrude Stein (domineering)…they’re all there.