The Paris Wife
One of my favorite things about being an avid reader is notbeing afraid to pick up a book I know nothing at all about and give it atry. I read so many books that Idon’t have to be choosy about what I read; if I don’ t like it, then there’salways the next book or the next book after that. With those thoughts in mind, I reserved a copy of TheParis Wife from the Rochester Public Library without knowing anything about it. Its only recommendation came from thefact that there was a long queue of people waiting to read it and, therefore,there must be something redeeming about the story.
And so I began the story of Ernest Hemingway and his firstwife of five years, Hadley; a book I would never have read had I first read thesynopsis on the back cover. I mustadmit, however, that I’d have missed a good read if I’d bypassed this book onthe prejudice of not being interested in the topic.
Paula McLain paints a vivid picture of the 1920s, Paris,Hemingway and their circle of literary friends who live each day by their ownrules and moral standards. In themidst of these people is his wife, Hadley; clearly the most normal and least”entitled” of any in their social set. Her entire focus and goal in life is to be the loving wifeand supportive partner to her narcissistic, self-absorbed husband. “Are you on my side or not?”Hemingway repeatedly asks of Hadley, when what he really means is that to holdany other opinion than his is to be on the “other” side. As a devoted and supportive wife,Hadley is always on her husband’s side, regardless of her own personal convictions.
Throughout this book, I vacillated between being completelyirritated with Hadley and her constant need for her husband’s approval, andcomplete understanding of the position she had chosen. In a time when the women’s movement was at its peak, she haddeliberately cast herself in the more traditional role of submissive wife toher husband. Once there, it becamenearly impossible for her to stand up for herself and her own interests untilrighteous indignation finally forces her hand.
While I originally had no interest in Hemingway or hisworks, I’m now forced to admit that I’d like to know a bit more about the manand his writing, and will soonfind myself testing out one or two of his published works.
The Paris Wife is a book worth reading; and one that wouldappeal to those who follow Hemingway, or who enjoy biographical fiction.
To learn more about The Paris Wife or the author, visitthe Random House website dedicated to this book. It’s filled with additional information and photographs of the Hemingway family, as well as many of the landmarks central to the story of The Paris Wife. Also note that, as part the library’s Visiting Author Series, Paula McLain will be a guest of the RochesterPublic Library on January 8, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. Mark your calendars nowand stay tuned for more information on this event in the coming months!
~ Catherine H. Armstrong