Saturday, May 18, 2013
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain...and thoughts on the author event.
Paula McLain began her talk by telling us how she became a writer, relating back to her early days as a foster kid finding solace in her school libraries. When she was in graduate school working on her degree in poetry someone suggested that she write a memoir about her childhood experiences growing up in the foster care system. She wasn't sure she could do that since she didn't usually write sentences. Her memoir received very little recognition once it was published but she went on to write a novel, which also didn't sell well. After two publishing duds she was casting about looking for a topic for another book when she, by chance, read Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. It is Hemingway's last book, published posthumously, containing essays written about the five years that he and his first wife, Hadley Richardson, lived in Paris in the early 1920s.
On the last one and half pages of A Moveable Feast Hemingway seems to express regret that he allowed himself to be lured away from his first love by another woman which broke up his marriage to Hadley. He wrote, "I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her." When McLain read this, she said she just had to learn more about Hadley and thus began the research that eventually led to the writing of The Paris Wife.
In March when The Paris Wife was announced as the 2013 Pierce County Reads book, my husband disappointedly commented that the book was obviously chick-lit. He corrected himself after reading it, acknowledging the historical fiction about the Hemingways was fascinating, especially how they rubbed elbows with so many other famous writers of the day. We both enjoyed listening to Paula McLain talk about her research and found her to be a captivating speaker.
At one point during her presentation I was moved to the point of tears when McLain described a poignant moment during her first book event after the book was published. It was held in St. Louis, where Hadley Richardson grew up. After reading from the book she took questions from the audience when an octogenarian stood up and said that his Aunt Hadley would have loved the book. He and nine other members of Hadley's family had come to the bookstore to meet the woman that wrote the book about his aunt. What a moving endorsement.
I endorse the book, too. It is not only an enjoyable read but it is an excellent book club selection. My club had a great discussion about the book. Several of the gals in my club did additional research related to the Hemingways, the 1920s, bullfighting, and other people mentioned in the book. We ever talked about various types of alcoholic drinks that were mentioned.
Since reading The Paris Wife, I felt compelled to read A Moveable Feast to balance Hadley's point of view with Hemingway's. While reading The Paris Wife I often felt frustrated with Hadley and the way that she allowed herself to be treated. McLain reminded us during our Q & A session, that Hadley was really a Victorian girl who was suddenly thrust into a Bohemian lifestyle. It is hard for women today to understand what it was like to be a woman in the 1920s. But one thing is obvious, once Hadley Richardson fell in love with Ernest Hemingway her life changed dramatically. She called it as a "great explosion into life."