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Review: ‘The Paris Wife’ by Paula McLain

LOCAL APPEARANCES

Paula McLain will discuss and sign copies of “The Paris Wife” at:

•The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, 6:30 p.m. March 10 at 200 N. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park. Information: ehfop.org.

•A luncheon discussion, 11:30 am.-2 p.m. March 11 at Lovell’s of Lake Forest, 915 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest. Information: lakeforestbookstore.com.

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



The Paris Wife is simply a sweet love story with surprising emotional impact. Author Paula McLain explores the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson — the first of Hemingway’s four wives, and the woman to whom he dedicated The Sun Also Rises.

Like the literary powerhouse partnered with Hadley in the book, McLain writes with an economy and clarity that makes the reading of The Paris Wife an enjoyable exercise. With a fictionalized Hadley as narrator for their years together, McLain gives due consideration to passion and humor of that life while at the same time giving equal honor to its pathos as their marriage finally disintegrates.

The Paris Wife (Ballantine, $25) aptly spends its 318 pages blithely dropping names and moving on quickly as readers congratulate themselves for having picked up a book where they already know all of the characters. d

Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, Sylvia Beach, Gertrude Stein, and Lincoln Steffens all make brief appearances in The Paris Wife. In one of the book’s many amusing moments and in the company of not just literary figures, Ernest earnestly reports to Hadley that Mussolini had “very pretty hands” while preparing notes from the interview to send to the Toronto Star, the paper he worked for, and the job that sent them both to Europe.

Happily, McLain does more than simply recreate history even though her characters have real names; A Moveable Feast this is not. Sometimes the voice of Hemingway has a forced poetic quality the bull-fighting author would have hated.

Without the trappings of memoir, McLain is able to play the characters off each other naturally as the dialogue here flows easily and the interactions between Hemingway and Hadley fairly sing off the page. So when the “other woman” enters the scene to help tear apart everything Hadley has built with Ernest, McLain bravely becomes surgically careful and does not give in to the easy melodrama of such a circumstance.

The Paris Wife could have easily turned into “The Real Housewives of Paris in the ’20s.” Instead, McLain recreates the well-trodden territory of the Lost Generation with more skill and effect than anything written in recent years. Her Hadley Richardson lived with her husband as an everywoman who was very much of her time, and very comfortable there. Her pain is visceral yet so delicately written that her perceptions are trusted and her reactions felt deeply. If the real first Mrs. Hemingway was anything like this creation, it is easy to divine how Ernest fell in love.

M.E. Collins is a local free-lance writer.



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