The Paris Wife

Paula McLain, Ballantine, $25 (332p) ISBN 978-0-345-52130-9
McLain (A Ticket to Ride) offers a vivid addition to the complex-woman-behind-the-legendary-man genre, bringing Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson, to life. Meeting through mutual friends in Chicago, Hadley is intrigued by the brash "beautiful boy," and after a brief courtship and small wedding, Hadley and Ernest take off for Paris, "the place to be," according to Sherwood Anderson. McLain ably portrays the cultural icons of the 1920s—Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, and Ezra and Dorothy Pound—and the impact they have on the then unknown Hemingway, casting Hadley as a rock of Gibraltar for a troubled man whose brilliance and talent were charged and compromised by his astounding capacity for alcohol and women. Hadley, meanwhile, makes a convincing transformation from an overprotected child to a game and brave young woman who puts up with impoverished living conditions and shattering loneliness to prop up her husband's career. The historical figure cameos sometimes come across as gimmicky, but the heart of the story—Ernest and Hadley's relationship—gets an honest reckoning, most notably the waves of elation and despair that pull them apart. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 12/06/2010
Release date: 02/01/2011
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