Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

I really liked this book!  I don't know much about Ernest Hemingway and I knew nothing about Hadley, his first wife..  If you're an expert, you might not enjoy reading this fictional account of their romance and life together.  But, I believe Paula McLain really did the research, and sought to portray an accurate but fresh perspective.

The story is great.  Hadley meet Ernest on a trip to Chicago and there is magic.  She was living a dull life, and suddenly she has this connection and as they develop their relationship, I think she becomes the woman she wanted to be.  Or at least starts on that journey.  I liked her from the beginning and found her so relate able.  I like that she was an ordinary woman, and while she points out flashier girls in her circle, she isn't self-deprecating.  She has confidence and feels worthy of her surprise romance.  I hate reading stories of girls who constantly comment that they can't believe their boyfriend/lover/husband would fall in love with them.  Gag.  Hadley isn't that way at all.  She loves her husband and commits herself from the start.

I also like seeing and learning about people before they came into their own.  Hemingway was nothing, he was broke, he was struggling to make friends and get published.  I like seeing that more vulnerable side of someone you know is going to become so successful. 

This is the first book I've read by Paula McLain, and I really like her writing style.  I'm curious if this is how she always writes, or because it is written in first person, if this is the voice she gave Hadley.  Either way, it was great.  For example, "The nest of fish was crisp under a coarse snow of salt and smelled so simple and good I thought it might save my life.  Just a little.  Just for that moment."  Beautiful!

Or this conversation when Hadley was feeling a little lonely for Ernest and maybe sad.
     I sighed. "I think it's going to rain all day."
     "Don't kid yourself.  It's going to rain for a month."
     "Maybe it won't after all."
     He smiled at me.  "All right, Tiny. Maybe it won't."

It must be hard when telling a story that many of your readers have a pretty good idea of the ending, not to painfully foreshadow.  McLain is careful in her writing, so when she does, it's successful.  This is a good example.  "It was the end of Ernest's struggle with apprenticeship, and an end to other things as well.  He would never again be unknown.  We would never again be this happy."
In this story, Hadley does a lot of thinking and reflecting on their marriage.  I found the underlying thoughts (not the circumstances) very familiar, and thought provoking.  They meet up with one of Ernest's friends and she comments that he "saw and understood what was good in us." Just like those people who you feel the most yourself around, it's great to have friends that make you feel that way about your marriage.  There are a lot of thoughts she has and soul searching she does toward the end that I thought was really good.  But I can't discuss it without giving too much away.  I'll just tell you that I think she does a lot of things right.

Another thing I found really relate able was Hadley's need to feel connected and to feel successful.  I wish so bad she had worked or had something to fill up her days with when they first go to Paris.  Later she makes time to go out with friends even if she's not in the mood.  I think that is so important!  Simple get togethers and events have saved me so many times.When her friend suggests that she give a piano concert, she thinks  "It would take so much more time and effort..." but then "I began to wonder if a concert might be good for me after all."  And "My playing wouldn't change anything about his habits--I wasn't naive enough to think that--but I thought it might give me my own focus and outlet, beyond the details of Bumby's feeding schedule and exercise regimen." AMEN.  I would give this advice to any woman who stays at home with her kids, find something apart from them to work on and feel successful doing.

Right after they get married, Ernest who had been gravely injured in WWI, tells her:
     "After I was shot, when my head was still in pretty bad shape, a very wise Italian officer told me the only thing to really do for that kind of fear was to get married."
    "So your wife would take care of you?  That's an interesting way to think about marriage."
    "I actually took it to mean that if I could take care of her--you, that is--I'd worry less about myself.  But maybe it works both ways."
    "I'm counting on that," I said.
Maybe this is why things didn't last?  Ernest stopped trying to take care of Hadley and was consumed with taking care of himself.

Read this book.  Really, I think you'll like it.  It's the best thing I've read in a while and has put me back in the mood to devour some books!

P.S. When you're reading you'll probably want to look up photos of Hadley and Hemingway.  Here's a pretty one from her wedding day I found.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus

Every Christmas my husband picks out a book for me.  I love the tradition, and he often picks books that are perfect for me!  I really enjoyed this one, but only recommend it hesitantly.

One Thousand White Women is historical fiction, developed from an actual event that took place in 1854.  A Northern Cheyenne chief asked a U.S. authority for 1,000 white women to marry 1,000 men in his tribe.  His thought was that the children of these marriages would help his people assimilate into the white culture.  He wasn't taken seriously, and it wasn't long before all his people were either slaughtered or forced onto reservations.  BUT this story imagines what it might be like if the request had been granted.  What kind of women would have gone?  What would their experiences have been?  Would it have helped relations?

I like the idea.  I think it's interesting to look back at a moment in time and how different circumstances may have affected it.  The story is told through journals and letter of the fictional May Dodd.  She is a likeable character, and she is well-written.  Toward the beginning as the women are travelling west on a train, a less-experienced friend asks May for marriage advice.  She tells her "it is my limited experience that the best way to make them happy--if that is your true goal--is to wait on them hand and foot..."  I think this is a good example of the writing style.  While it is sometimes funny, I almost feel like it is too forced.  I'm not sure if I've felt this way before, but it bothered me that the author, a man, spoke so intimately of how it felt to be a woman: childbirth, marriage, motherhood.  It just wasn't believable.

But I did like May.  One great quote from her is, "I have found that the best, and certainly simplest defense of one's faith, or lack thereof, is the truth."  I've thought about this a lot.  I tend to sugar-coat things I'm afraid others don't agree with.  It is usually better to just stick with the facts.  There's another part where May is describing the dancing around a fire.  She's poetic with phrases like "frenzy of color," and "rhythmic heartbeat of the earth."  I love her summation of the event, "How the gods watching must have enjoyed their creation."  Beautiful isn't it?

The story sometimes feel a little cliche, but I do think the author is able to acurately address the enormous cultural gap between the Native Americans and the white settlers during the late 1800's.  For the white women, I think some of the happiness they discover living among the Native Americans seems realistic.  Working hard and not having time to sit around and worry about trivial things.  They intimacy of family and how the women help each other out.  But for me it just doesn't quite hit the mark for me.  I finished it, but I didn't think it was amazing.

Also, there is some horrible violence.  I skimmed it, but it is awful.  I also felt like the wedding night scenes would have been just as effetive if they had been edited way down.  Do you know what I mean?  You can create the scene without having to describe everything, seriously.