Iâ€™ve spent the last year reading the Modernist literature http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modernist_literature of Paris in the 1920s. This pared-down, often Cubist style of writing is inviting and itâ€™s easy to appreciate the works of Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Djuna Barnes and Henry Miller; since they affirm the connection between art and writing and inspiration.Â
After reading the Sun Also Rises again I followed it with The Paris Wife http://www.randomhouse.com/rhpg/features/paula_mclain/index.php Â a recently published novel set in the same time period.Â Being visual I wondered why the cover depicts the 1950s when the time period is actually the 1920s. But loving time period pieces, I dug in.
Writer Paula McLain follows Hemingwayâ€™s first wife, Hadley Richardsonâ€™s life in its real dimensions, yet it is not an authentic biography.Â The characters or should I say people who move through her pages are real and not fictional.Â Still there is much imagined in regard to conversations, interrelationships and feelings. McLain herself described the work as a novel in conversation with Hemingway.
However, itsâ€™ biggest flaw was our main characterâ€”sheâ€™s a pushover. Now that I think about it I don’t know if she was just a product of the timesâ€” old fashioned and doggedly determined to stay married even though her husband was a complete louse â€” or was she really so in awe over him that she had no voice and became pathetic? Ernest was a little boy; self absorbed, vain, inept as a husband, so I didn’t get a warm feeling about either of them.Â I kept waiting for Hadley to find herself and stick up for herself or to lose her temper.Â But she doesnâ€™t and it disappoints, particularly when she finds out her best friend is sleeping with her husband. The betrayal is the crux of the story although it only occupies a few pages.Â It was obvious that McLain invented the dialogue and has never lived through the emotional experience, because itâ€™s a wound and rage that doesnâ€™t get forgotten.
So The Paris Wife is actually a portrait of the rise and fall of a marriage but in my opinion, made a flat read.
What it did offer were rich glimpses into the cacophony of 1920s Parisâ€”a city rife with ex-patriot notables such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound at a time filled with experimentation in the arts and a sketch of the Lost Generationâ€™s dissonant world.