Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Paula McLain’

The importance of Ernest Hemingway hasn’t faded in the 50 years since his death. His works still are read and analyzed, his eventful life dissected, his oversized personality discussed, the myth and the man reimagined.

 Award-winning writer Paul Hendrickson (Sons of Mississippi) is quick to say the world doesn’t need another traditional Hemingway biography. So he takes an unconventional tack with Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved, and Lost, 1934-1961, focusing on the last 27 years of the writer’s life. He anchors the engaging narrative of Hemingway riding the waves of fame and fortune — the high tides, the stomach-churning swells, the swirling depths – to Hemingway’s love for his “fishing machine,’’ Pilar.

            Hendrickson describes his mission in a long, entertaining prologue: “So it’s about such ideas as fishing, friendship, and fatherhood, and love of water, and what it means to be masculine in our culture (as that culture is rapidly changing), and the notion of being ‘boatstruck’ . . .and how the deep good in us is often matched only by the perverse bad in us, and – not least — about the damnable way our demons seems to end up always following us.’’

Hendrickson, forgoing the terse, laconic style of Hemingway for his own looping elegance, acknowledges those demons as both arising from Papa’s past (his father’s suicide, for instance) and the flaws in his character. Yes, he could be – and often was – selfish, egotistical, “gratuitously mean.’’ He cheated on his wives, belittled his friends, dealt awkwardly with his sons, especially the third, the troubled Gregory (Gigi).

  But oh, Hemingway could write. Hendrickson does not forgive the great man because of his great talent, but he does show “amid so much ruin, still the beauty,’’ and  how he bravely engaged with life and was often at his best on Pilar, the middle-aged man and the sea.

 Hendrickson interviewed Hemingway’s three sons, read the thousands of letters Papa wrote, and, of course all the books, and he quotes liberally from these sources and others to emphasize Hemingway’s complexities and contradictions. I wasn’t sure I could read another 500-plus pages on Hemingway, but I found Hemingway’s Boat fascinating and revealing. Not as boatstruck as either author, I did skim the complete guide to boat building and Pilar’s specs. Still, in the end, Hendrickson also sent me back to Hemingway’s books and the stories, which is a good thing.

I already had reread Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast in the spring when The Paris Wife, Paula McLain’s best-selling novel came out. Written from the perspective of Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, The Paris Wife is a romantic evocation of their meeting and courtship in Chicago in 1920, and then the next five years in Jazz-age Paris among the fabled “Lost Generation.’’

Many of the incidents in the novel – first encounters with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, Ernest’s struggles to claim his own voice, Hadley’s loss on a train of her husband’s manuscripts – were recounted by Hemingway in A Moveable Feast, and I suggest a tandem reading.

 Hemingway was a great believer in finding the truth in fiction, and McLain’s sympathetic voicing of Hadley feels authentic. She was passionately in love with her younger husband, but her traditional upbringing and values were no match when the poisonous Pauline, soon to be the second of four Mrs. Hemingways, literally moved in on her marriage. She reluctantly retreated with young son Jack, and, yes, she had regrets, but she also felt that they would always have their Paris. “We got the best of each other.’’  

If you read A Moveable Feast, you’ll know Hemingway felt much the same near the end of his life. In Hemingway’s Boat, Hendrickson writes that it was because Hadley “was his truest love, or at least his truest marriage’’ that Hemingway’s subsequent marriages were doomed from the start. Then again, Hadley didn’t have to compete with Pilar.

Open Book: I read the digital galley of Paul Hendrickson’s Hemingway’s Boat (Knopf), which the publisher provided through NetGalley. I bought a hardcover copy of Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife (Ballantine) so I could present it to my book club. When I couldn’t find my old paperback of  Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, I borrowed a copy from the Orange County Library.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: