I’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 it’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.
After reading the Sun Also Rises again I followed it with The Paris Wife http://www.randomhouse.com/rhpg/features/paula_mclain/index.php a recently published novel set in the same time period. 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 Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson’s life in its real dimensions, yet it is not an authentic biography. The characters or should I say people who move through her pages are real and not fictional. 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, its’ biggest flaw was our main character—she’s a pushover. Now that I think about it I don’t know if she was just a product of the times— old fashioned and doggedly determined to stay married even though her husband was a complete louse — 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. I kept waiting for Hadley to find herself and stick up for herself or to lose her temper. But she doesn’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. It was obvious that McLain invented the dialogue and has never lived through the emotional experience, because it’s a wound and rage that doesn’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 Paris—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 Generation’s dissonant world.