Tag Archives: The Paris Wife

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.

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Book Review: The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

10 Dec

Coming down the home stretch! I’ve got 21 more days to go and four more books to finish! Expect a good number of book reviews in the next few weeks.

Cover Image from Goodreads.com

Cover Image from Goodreads.com

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

This book was recommended to me by one of my supervisors at work. She said she really loved it and I put it on my list, figuring that I would get to it eventually. Well, it’s eventually. I almost read this sooner, but I’d just finished The Paris Wife and I needed a change of pace. I listened to this title on audiobook from the local library.

Anne Morrow was an ambassador’s daughter before she was the aviator’s wife. It was in Mexico City, visiting her dignitary father that she first met Colonel Charles Lindbergh. Seeing in Anne the co-pilot he’s been searching for, Charles doesn’t forget her and their quick romance is filled with airplanes and the wide open sky. Anne jumps into Charles’ world with two feet, earning her pilot’s license and learning to operate a glider. ‘The First Couple of the Sky’ is America’s favorite and the media attention can only be avoided when they’re together in the air. When their first child, Charles Jr., is born, the two don’t slow down. They seem to be away from their child more than with him and the couple finally buys their own house to settle down in and be a family. When tragedy strikes and their son is kidnapped, the results will break Charles and leave Anne grieving alone for the son she never really got to know. As her five other children grow and leave, Anne finds her self more and more alone as Charles leaves for war, conferences, and meetings. No one could accompany the lone eagle forever.

I tried not to, but I found myself comparing this book the The Paris Wife while I read it. Between the two, I’d say I liked Benjamin’s book better. They both focus on the wives of famous men from the 1920s and how the men outshone their wives in every way possible. I found Anne a stronger and more likeable character than Hadley and I’m glad I’m ending my foyer into 20s wives on a strong note.

This book, more than anything, made me dislike Charles Lindbergh. He’s portrayed as controlling, manipulative, and very arrogant. His anti-Semitic tendencies were enough to make me dislike him, but forcing Anne to publish a book where she explained that she agreed with him was abhorrent. A man who would father seven children out of wedlock is not a very likeable character in any book. (According to Wikipedia, this is true. It’s not known if Anne was aware.)

Anne’s journey is to find herself an identity that is separate from Charles’s. She wants to be known as more than the Aviator’s wife and starts this by being an author. Anne studied English in school and always wanted to write. She ghost-wrote for Charles but wanted her own turn at the page. Her book was successful, maybe only slightly bolstered by her husband’s fame. After the youngest, Reeve, left home, Anne got her own apartment and her own friends. She became known among them as the writer of the group and relished in this identity. She had flirtations, one even more than a flirtation, and felt that finally she was her own woman. This was only solidified when she denied Charles the absolution he wanted regarding the European children. It took until her husband’s death, but Anne finally stepped from Charles’ shadow.

Besides his flight, the one thing people always remember about Lindbergh is the kidnapping. There was an afterward in the copy I had that Benjamin had written and she said that the Lindberghs have been affected more by the media than any other people alive, perhaps excluding Princess Diana. Their loss was so public and the search so wide spread that it took on a life of its own. They way its described in Benjamin’s book almost broke my heart to see the unusual struggle that the two had to go through because of their celebrity status. The writing really made me feel for the Lindberghs.

Writer’s Takeaway: I said at the beginning that I enjoyed this book more than The Paris Wife and I think I’ve deduced why. Hadley was a very unlikeable character while I was rooting for Anne the whole time. Hadley wasn’t to focus of her own story, Ernest was always the focus. The story ended with a change in Ernest, not Hadley. Anne’s story was wholly her own with a character arc not defined by Charles. I think this highlights a good lesson for writers. Our characters need to be more than a set of eyes. They can see someone else’s story, but they have to have their own as well. In The Great Gatsby, Nick is watching Gatsby’s story, but he is his own character and he is dynamic. When the protagonist and narrator are different people, one must make sure both change.

Three out of five stars.

Until next time, write on.

Recently Added to my To-Read Shelf

3 Oct

It’s been a while since I added an update to my To-Read shelf and I’ve added a full five books in the mean time!  So get ready to dive in.

  1. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.   I added this after finishing Paula McClain’s book The Paris Wife.  The book sparked my curiosity in Hemingway which I had lost since high school.  I was a big fan of his prose then and I hope I still am!  The Sun Also Rises was written while Hemingway was married to his Paris Wife, Hadley Richardson.  The story follows a set of characters similar to Hemingway and his friends as ex-patriots in 1920s Paris to the bullfighting rings of Spain.  I’m only hoping it doesn’t read too much like The Paris Wife!
  2. Finding Colin Firth by Mia March.  This is not my usual style of read and I even had Nicole comment that she thought it strange I wanted to read this.  I added it because a woman at my company mentioned she had read Dan Brown’s book Inferno as well as this one and much preferred March’s book.  As I enjoyed Inferno, I thought this might be worth an investigation.  The story focuses around three woman in a small town in Maine where Colin Firth is coming to film a new movie.  Each have their own motivation for being in town and they all discover something about themselves in the buzz of trying to find Colin Firth (you see what I did there?  Ha, I’m so funny).
  3. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson.  I told my friend who recommended The Devil in the White City how much I had enjoyed it and he recommended another of Larson’s books, In the Garden of Beasts.  This history focuses on the American Ambassador to Germany after World War I whose family at first enjoy the energetic Germany army and determined Germanic attitude.  The family soon discovers the German prosecution of Jews and the true nature of the Third Reich.  I’m greatly looking forward to this book, assuming I ever get to it on my to-read list!
  4. The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti.  I added this book because I won in it a Goodreads First Reads giveaway!  I never win anything so I was super excited to get this one.  The book sounds pretty interesting to boot!  It’s compared to The Kite Runner for it’s dramatics and it focuses on the Arab-Israeli conflict with a setting in Palestine.  This kind of a summary has me super excited to receive my first free book in the mail!
  5. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.  After I posted my review of Elie Wiesel’s Night, my cousin suggested that I might like Mrs. Dalloway.  Always one to take a suggestion, I’ve added it onto the list!  It focuses on Clarissa Dalloway as she prepares to host a party in Inter-War Era England.  With shifts forward and backward in time, Woolf explores a woman’s life in that era.  (Geeking out right now, great suggestion, Nate!)

So there it is!  My new additions to the To-Read list.  Have you read any of them? What were your thoughts?  Do you have any suggestions for me?  I’ll be more than happy to add them.

Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

17 Sep

I’m flying through books, trying to meet my Reading Challenge goal of 70 books this year!  I’m currently at 51, 2% ahead of schedule.  This one was an audiobook and not my favorite one at that.  Read on for a review, but be forewarned of spoilers!

The Paris Wife by Paul McLain

I love historical fiction and I love the 1920s so The Paris Wife seemed like an obvious choice.  It was a recommendation of of my book calendar (I’m telling you, that thing is killing me slowly).  McLain’s story is about Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway.  If you’re not familiar with Hemingway’s personal life, he is considered to be something like the jock of the writing world.  He was a womanizer who love big game hunting and bullfighting.  I love his no-frills writing and that he writs about Michigan, something I hold dear to my heart.

Hadley doesn’t think much of herself as she reaches her late twenties and has been turned down by the one man she loved.  When she meets a young man named Ernest Hemingway, she’s swept off her feet, despite the warnings of her good friends.  The two marry and soon enough are off to Paris to pursue the writing scene that Ernest feels he has to involve himself in to be the writer he wants to be.  The life in Paris is like nothing Hadley’s ever experienced before.  There are homosexuals, polygamists and of course more alcohol than she knows what to do with.  They begin a wild life and parties, vacations, friends, and love.

As I’ve already discussed with my friends on Facebook, this book seemed to fall flat to me.  Hadley was not a very likeable protagonist from the beginning and never grew on me.  She was foolish in a lot of her daily decisions and seemed overall weak.  What was most memorable to me was the picture painted of Hemingway.  He started off very likable, but when his first stories got good reviews, he stepped on the people who helped give him a shot.  He was unappreciative of all he was given, including Hadley’s love.

I know that some of my frustrations with Hadley come from a difference of almost 100 years, such as her letting the maid raise her child and the focus on wealth and the desire to be so rich that life is a game.  It’s hard for me to relate to this.  I try to focus on the main themes of the novel: devotion, love, and the complications of friendships.

Hadley’s love for Hemingway is undying, as she admits late in the book.  He can offend her good friends, his own mother, even herself, and Hadley will love him and stay devoted to him.  She lets this take control of her toward the end and it’s somewhat sad to see her fall apart.  Throughout much of the novel the two are so strong that when they tell friends that they’re splitting, many are in complete shock that such a solid couple could stumble.  The ups and downs of the friendships in the novel are a very curious thing.  I can’t think of a single character that remained friends with the Hemingways for the whole novel (though I wish F. Scott Fitzgerald had, he was a great character!).  Friends come into your life for a season and a reason before they leave.

The reader can probably tell I wasn’t a big fan of the book and wouldn’t recommend it.  I had The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin next on my list, but in light of this book, I’m going to take a break and put that on the backburner.  I will say that I really want to read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises now that I’ve finished The Paris Wife.  If it’s the mix of bare boned prose and bull fighting that I’m anticipating, it will be amazing.

One of the themes that McLain beautifully explored was infidelity, which I’ve never seen done so believably before.  Many books will have one character turned suddenly cold or hateful, but McLain has Hadley and Ernest ride out their separation slowly and painfully, the way a couple would.  The ending was very touching and for sure my favorite part of the book.

Overall, I thought it dragged too much in the middle and the ending went by almost too quickly.  The Fitzgeralds were my favorite characters and I loved the historical accuracy of the piece.  The Lost Generation is so often talked of in terms of their writing and not written about so this was refreshing.

Writer’s Takeaways: I think the first person point of view worked well in this case.  Without it, the piece would sound too much like a history without the fiction.  Being inside Hadley’s mind helped me feel that this was as much a story McLain made up on the spot as it was well-researched.  As someone who hopes to write more historical fiction going forward, this is very worthy of note.  As I said before, I think it dragged a bit in the middle and there could have been a bit more ‘fat cutting’ to bring the piece to more bare bones as Hemingway would have done.  But perhaps not doing so is ironic.  Hm.

Two out of five stars.