Paula McLain

The Paris Wife, Paula McLainPaula McLain
The Paris Wife 

Reading The Paris Wife is like peeking behind the scenes of A Moveable Feast. The familiar stories are all here—the racehorse that fell at the last moment; the Alpine skiing; even the infamous stolen suitcase—but told from the perspective of the first Mrs. Hemingway.

Hadley is the unglamorous wife, the one in the background of snapshots taken in Schruns or Antibes. Here the spotlight is turned on her, and we find a perceptive, articulate, complex woman in that flat above the sawmill on the rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs.

Hadley provides her erratic, belligerent husband with both stability and inspiration. The strength of their connection is undeniable: “In bed, as nowhere else, he was my favorite animal and I was his.” McLain gets the voices eerily accurate. If Ernest didn’t really say, “I don’t trust a man I haven’t seen tight,” he should have.

Of particular interest to Hemingway fans is their trip to Pamplona with a group of friends. The overlapping love affairs, vicious recriminations, and drunken brawls, set to a sound track of incessant riau-riau music, leave Hadley appalled. Ernest takes notes, and deftly turns that emotional bouillabaisse into The Sun Also Rises. (Changing the characters’ names does little to mollify those who find their words and behavior in print.)

Then there’s the Pauline problem. Hadley still loves her husband but is unwilling to continue the relationship as a menage à trois, which is apparently what Ernest has in mind. And so ends a marriage many considered indestructible.

Ernest’s portrayal of Hadley in A Moveable Feast—where he vilifies nearly every friend of that era—is tender, even regretful. Reading The Paris Wife, you can’t help feeling that he made a resoundingly good choice in marrying her, and an unforgivably bad one in letting her go.

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