A two word review of The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain:
Yep, that pretty well sums it up. Thanks for reading.
Much the same as Z was more about Scott Fitzgerald than Zelda, The Paris Wife is way more about Ernest Hemingway than it is about his first wife, Hadley.
Hadley is the narrator, but she is not the protagonist, hero or star of the book in any sense. She sits on the sidelines and watches. Maybe McLain started writing about her, assuming she’d be a compelling character, and realized too late there was nothing of genuine interest about Hadley at all. It’s not badly written, but she does little besides tell us what Hemingway thought.
“I want to write one true sentence,” he said. “If I can write one sentence, simple and true, every day, I’ll be satisfied.”
Yep, that’s exactly what I’d imagine Hemingway saying— and in exactly the serious, self-conscious delivery of actor Corey Stoll in Midnight in Paris. That was funny!
Every time it looked like Sadly Hadley was about to change, to stick up for herself, to actually do something, she disappointed me.
She went on for pages about fashion and hairstyles, insisting she hated them but refusing to shut up about them.
Frustratingly, she kept interrupting Hemingway for waffles when he was trying to write his one true sentence for the day.
She was going to play a piano concert— finally! she’s doing something! —no, wait; she’s backed out.
Maddeningly, she even lay there pretending not to notice her so-called friend had climbed into bed to shag her husband. That’s no frolicsome threesome. That’s a pathetic third wheel.
Hadley commanded no respect, maybe because she didn’t respect herself. She was weak, afraid to be a person, unwilling to discover any interests of her own, and content to find her identity in her husband (first Hemingway, then Paul Mowrer a few months after the divorce).
While I could identify with her codependent tendencies, I didn’t like them in Hadley any better than I do in myself, and I felt really angry at her for not trying. Even at the very end of the book, she says, “I’m not sure what I’m meant to have. Or be for that matter.”
Really? Over 300 pages about a woman who doesn’t know what she wants or even who she is?
Gladly, I came away newly resolved to keep searching for my true identity, and round-aboutly inspired to never be a doormat again. And for the record, Punk, if any woman climbs into my bed with my husband, you better believe I will be on that thing like white on rice, and it will most assuredly NOT be frolicsome.
And that is my one simple and true sentence for today.