Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife
By Paula McLain

Are you a fan of A Moveable Feast? Paris? The Lost Generation? Do you love that Hemingway style of short declarative sentences that tell it exactly as it is? The one true thing?

But not so much of Hemingway, the man?

Then The Paris Wife, might be right up your alley.

I have gone through several life changes and Hemingway has been right there. A needling voice, as if he’s ready to box me, take me down to the tavern and drink me under the table, challenge me to a shark hunt. I’m energetic, but not even I can keep up with a man who blew through mentors, wives, and friends with a psychotic intensity. As a teenager I liked his Nick Adams stories, and at university I read “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and was overwhelmed by the story’s simplicity—and how it captured loneliness in sparse language. But I also read for class his big-game hunting The Snows of Kilimanjaro and I didn’t like how women were portrayed. I began to see him as a macho man writer, the kind of guys who hung out at the bars uptown and catcalled women walking down the street. No thank you, Mr. Hemingway.

Then I discovered A Moveable Feast and I decided to cut Ernest some slack. It is a book about writing, trying to write, trying to write one true thing. A sentence I could be proud of. And the pain, that comes with this trying. The relationships we make and break because of our choices. I loved the descriptions of Paris in springtime, with hunger in his belly, walking through the gardens to Gertrude Stein’s apartment and visiting the cafes to find a corner where he could write, out of the way.

I recently read an article that some coffee shops are asking patrons who use the place as their office to move on after a few hours. Well, it makes sense, business-wise. But consider if the Closerie des Lilas had done that 95 years ago. No one would visit the place today; it would simply be a footnote in one man’s literary career. Now it’s famous because of its connection to Ernest Hemingway and others from The Lost Generation. Famous Caf├ęs that Spawned Literary Greats,

 The Paris Wife is also about memory and how Hemingway shaped his fiction from autobiography. That’s where he got his material. From his war experience, from his friends that he and Hadley met at the cafes, from their travels abroad. I don’t think there is a single Hemingway novel that wasn’t mined from real-life. And, of course, who is Nick Adams, but EH.

Hemingway also wrote short sketches or “miniatures”—what today would be called flash. In Our Time is a great collection of Hemingway’s earlier stories with flashes worked in between. He was ahead of his time.

The Paris Wife might not leave you a fan of the man, but no one can ever diminish the shadow his literary efforts cast. Curiously—I’m now really interested in Pauline. I mean look at this picture—

 is she a caricature of a husband stealer? No, she looks mousy and wallflowerish. I’m now looking forward to The Key West Wife. There’s a story there also.

No comments: