Tag Archives: Paula McClain

Book Club Reflection: The Paris Wife by Paula McClain

19 Feb

Author Paul McClain is coming to my local area to speak next month so my book club decided to read The Paris Wife in anticipating of hearing her speak. I read this book a number of years ago and I heard McClain speak a while back as well. I didn’t re-read the book and I’m not able to go to the presentation so I went to my book club more to listen than anything. I remembered not liking the book and re-read my review before going. I’m not sure if I came away with anything different from what I thought after my initial reading, but it’s always great to hear what these women and men have to say.

McClain was born in 1965 and her background is in education. She taught English and, obviously, taught Hemingway to her students. She said it was when she was revisiting A Moveable Feast that she got the idea for this novel.

There were some readers in the group who were shocked to hear Hemingway lived in Michigan! He’s so often associated with Florida and Paris that Michigan, especially rural Michigan, seems like a stretch. Horton Bay, MI is located close to Boyne and Charlevoix for anyone who knows their Michigan geography. For those who only know a Michigander’s annoying habit of pointing out locations on their hand, it’s the fingernail of the ring finger.

With so many books written about Pound, Dos Passos, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway, it was refreshing to have something written from a female perspective (Stein excluded). This group was ‘lovingly’ dubbed the Lost Generation. The survivors of World War I, even those who didn’t see battle, were a bit lost and directionless. Many lost friends and family and there was a feeling of no future and no reason to plan for it. It created a sense of carefree living that bordered on recklessness and these writers were defining the lifestyle.

Some readers, like me, felt Hadley was a little flat and a lot of things happened around her without her taking part in them. She tried to fit in with Hemingway, this wonderful younger man, and his friends by drinking and partying. She came off as a saint because she dealt with Ernest’s antics. This plays into my personal frustration with the ‘Famous Wives’ phenomenon we saw a while back (Under the Wide and Starry Sky, The Aviator’s Wife). These women are defined by the men they married. The books do not develop them enough to make the woman herself vivid and interesting to read about. To be fair, I’ve enjoyed books about Zelda Fitzgerald (Z, Call Me Zelda) because she’s her own woman and not defined by Scott. Anyway, I’ll step off this soapbox now…

Someone asked if anyone thought Hadley got pregnant on purpose. A few had suspicions and it seems somewhat plausible. She didn’t want to be alone and wanted to solidify her marriage to Ernest. Some of us were bothered by her not being involved in Bumby’s upbringing, but that was likely a product of the times. We wondered as well if their hands-off parenting was a reaction to their domineering mothers. Instead of being overly involved in their son’s life, they wanted to give him space. We also noted on how that hands-off/hands-on parenting can swing back and forth through time and after a hands-off time with Hippy culture in the 70s, we’ve moved to a very hands-on helicopter parent culture. Hm.

The same reader asked if we thought Hadley lost Ernest’s work on purpose. Her logic was thinking Hadley was jealous of Ernest and the time he spent writing and that if he didn’t have his work, he’d stay home and be near her. It was later admitted that losing his worth started the irrevocable change to their relationship. There wasn’t anyone else in our group who suspected this might have been on purpose.

Many suspected that Ernest suffered from PTSD and that others in the group may have as well. He was very sure of himself and cocky but there were moments when he was weak, crying uncontrollably and an emotional wreck. We also wondered if he had depression. With the number of suicides in his family, it’s likely it could have been a genetic condition.

The affair rubbed many of us the wrong way. There were so many affairs in their circle of friends that Ernest saw it as normal while Hadley hadn’t changed her perspective enough to see it this way. Sections of the book written in Ernest’s voice rationalized it, saying how his friends were able to do it so he should have no problem having an affair as well. What bothered a lot of us was that they were living off Hadley’s money and she should have just cut him off!

I’ve already heard McClain speak and it didn’t sway my opinion of her book much. I wonder if others in the group will have their impressions changed at all by hearing her.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Midwest Literary Walk in Chelsea, Michigan

10 May

If you’re a book nerd like me and not friends with a local librarian, I HIGHLY recommend it. They’re always in the know about the coolest bookish events around. My good friend Amy told me about the Midwest Literary Walk in Chelsea, Michigan and we trudged the hour out there to see the five authors who came to the event.

Sorrentino is on the right.

Sorrentino is on the right.

The first two speakers were based out of the Chelsea Depot, the old train station which made a perfect venue. The first speaker was Christopher Sorrentino, a contemporary fiction writer. He spoke about his latest book, The Fugitives. The book is set in the fictional Cherry City, which many Michiganders identified as Traverse City, Michigan (TRAV-erse, not tra-VERSE). He said that all of his characters are liars and they’re all running away from something. That must make for some fun writing to be sure! The book is different from the normal character-driven plots he writes because there is a thriller/heist element to the book. He still think’s it’s a character study, but with a lot more plot than he usually bestows on a book. He put a part of himself in each character and I think all writers can agree they do that to an extent. Sorrentino spoke about how draining it is to write a book. This book took him five years and the one before took four. He was asked about how the book was received and despite the good reviews he’s received, he wasn’t able to forget about one bad review in the New York Times written by a review he knew personally. I guess even the seasoned pros get stuck on some bad comments.


Me and Watkins.

The second speaker was Claire Vaye Watkins. Amy had read her short story collection and really liked it so I decided I was going to buy her book (which I did, thanks to Literati Bookstore being on site!). He novel is called Gold Fame Citrus and I’m really excited to read it. She told us it’s classified as ‘cli-fi,’ climate fiction which she only heard of after publishing. Watkins has never worried about genre or form and writes whatever she wants. Her earlier books were praised for being fearless and bold but she feels that since she had a child, she’s become a bit more feminine. She writes in the mornings, after dropping her child with a sitter and writes for 2-3 hours, cranking out between 1,000 and 5,000 words. She said that she lets herself stop when writing is hard but not when thinking is hard. When she’s too tired, she stops but if she’s at a rough point in the book, she keeps going. When I got my book signed, I asked her what advice she would give me as an aspiring writer. She said to embrace perfection on the page, but nowhere else in life. Look for the perfect word, the perfect paragraph, but let appearance fall by the wayside. I’ll have to work on that one!

May and Lewis.

May and Lewis.

There were two poets at the third stop, Robin Coste Lewis is the National Book Award Winner for Poetry. She writes long form poetry which allows her to take the reader on a journey. She said that never tries to explain a feeling or experience to her reader, she lets them determine it for himself. The other poet was Jamaal May, a Detroit poet. When he read, it was very obvious he got his start writing slam poetry. His biggest advice was when there is something bothering hi, it’s a good sign that it’s something he should write about.

img_2980The last author up was the big headliner, Paula McClain. I read McClain’s book The Paris Wife a few years back and wasn’t a big fan of the novel but it was interesting to hear her speak. She earned her MFA in Poetry from the University of Michigan and was amazed that she was able to do that. McClain spent 14 years in foster care and was on academic probation at a community college for three years so finishing a master’s degree was never what she expected of herself. Her first novel was a memoir and it took her five years to write. After learning about Hadley and being inspired by her, she hunkered down at a Cleveland Starbucks and wrote The Paris Wife in seven months. I was surprised to hear she’d never been to Paris before she wrote the book. She visited since, but I’m still amazed how alive she made Paris feel without having visited. I was amazed to hear that at a reading in St. Louis, she met Hadley’s nephew and other family members. What a rush that must have been!

It was a really great event and I’m glad I went. I plan to go again next year. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!