Monday, May 27, 2013

The Paris Wife

Hello. Three months. That's how old this cutie pie is.

Mother's Day, 2013
Also, that's about how long it took me to read The Paris Wife. I had one week off of work before she was born, and I took another five weeks off after the birth. I had all these great plans about how much reading I'd get done during that time. I knew I'd be tired and recovering and adjusting, etc. But I also knew there would be a lot of time sitting and breast feeding and recovering, etc. I had no idea that the week before the birth I would only want to lay on the couch and fall asleep to old episodes of Dexter. That holding a book up in the air while lying down would be exhausting. That breastfeeding takes two hands and full attention. That reading before bed would be impossible, because every time my head hit the pillow I instantly fell asleep.

But, I am finally getting some things figured out. I can read while feeding her now. Also, I am blessed with a child who sleeps all night already. I'm not sure if it will last, but I'm enjoying it while I can. She sleeps from about 11 p.m to 6 a.m. every night. It's a miracle and I love it.

My personal reading isn't the only thing that's suffering. My book club has basically ceased to exist while I've been in the land of diapers and sore nipples. I suppose I need to get around to setting a new meeting date and pick a book to read, but I keep putting it off for some reason. I really need to do it, though, because I could use a night out and a reason to read something new. I really miss talking to people other than coworkers and family.

In light of that, I'm deciding between two books to read for book club. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Any opinions?

Reflective of my current struggles, I'm currently reading "Stress Management for Lawyers" by Amiram Elwork. It's been a stressful first year as an attorney, and there's been a lot of adjusting. Throw in an infant, and I'm all out of ways to cope and function like a practical human being. I don't know how much help this book will be, but I'm giving it a shot. So far, the first few chapters are all about why being an attorney is so stressful. It's a bit Captain Obvious, and I'm hoping the chapters about how to manage stress will actually be helpful. I read the first of them last night, and the advice was to keep your body healthy, because good physical health = good mental health. Again, Captain Obvious. I'm starting to lose hope. But because I am a glutton for punishment, I'll keep reading it.

But, I did enjoy The Paris Wife, by Paula McClain. It took me three months to read it, but not because it wasn't good. It's just that I was so tired I could only read a page or two at a time. In case you don't know, this is a fictional account of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage to Hadley Richardson. It's told from Hadley's perspective, and it takes place during their time in Paris in the 1920s. There's lots of drinking, money problems, and miscommunication. In the end, of course, he and Hadley divorced, and probably for the better. But she was there to observe, encourage and maybe even cause his emergence as an artist. Maybe he would have become what he did with or without her, but I'm sure that without her he would have been different. And I like my Hemingway just how he is, thank you very much.

I've read A Moveable Feast about three times (maybe four). I love it. As far as memoirs go, it's practically perfect in every way. It (sort of) tells a story, but more than that it makes the reader feel what it was like to be there in that time and place. In 1920s Paris. With F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Zelda and Gertrude Stein and all the artists, etc. Admittedly, I'm more a fan of British Literature, particularly the Regency and Victorian periods. But there's something dreamy and wonderful about American literature in the early 1900s. I've written about this before, in my post about the movie Midnight in Paris. I'm a huge fan of that movie.

Reading A Moveable Feast is like being in a dream. It seems glorious, but just underneath the surface, there's something lurking. Nothing sinister, but something is off - a bit of dysfunction, a bit of being this close to teetering off the edge.

Reading The Paris Wife is not like that. It's very matter of fact. It's clear from the beginning (even if you didn't know their story) that the relationship is doomed. Therefore, plot isn't going to carry this thing, and there is more pressure on the author to make the journey through the marriage compelling. Paula McClain did a fairly decent job, but she's no Hemingway, that's for sure. 

I know there's probably a lot I should be saying about feminism and how Hemingway basically just used Hadley up and took advantage of her very supportive presence. How she gave him everything he had, and all he gave her was heartache and grief. He took everything and left her dried up on the floor. And in reality, I have really strong feelings about this sort of thing. I am really lucky that I found a husband that is majorly supportive of all I want to do. He didn't blink an eye when I told him I wanted to go to law school, which meant a major upheaval in our lives. He didn't hesitate to support me when I told him I wanted to spend an entire summer studying abroad in Europe - away from him. And I like to think I've been supportive of him too. I couldn't have done what Hadley did, and I'm glad I don't have to.

I've often said that getting married shouldn't mean you lose yourself. It just means that you gain a partner. That's not how it was for Hadley and Ernest. Theirs was a very unequal relationship, and yet, I can't be totally angry with him for failing her so much. Maybe it's just because I'm such a fan of his work. But I think it's more than that. Hadley was smart. She knew how to read him and support him. She knew how he was when she agreed to marry him. She knew what he needed from the beginning and she made the conscious choice to give it to him - to be what he needed. She made the decision to give herself up and at the same time give the world the gift of Hemingway. That was her contribution to art and letters. It's what she could give, and she gave it. Sure, it hurt her. Sure, HE hurt her. But I'm grateful to her, and the rest of the world should be too.

Someone I know recently pointed out an article by The Millions which made the argument that this is not really an interesting story. The only reason we're interested in this marriage at all is the fact that it involves Hemingway. Hadley's role as a supporter is important, but that doesn't make the story compelling. I think that's why I don't feel that sorry for her. She's not a compelling character in her own right. If she was, she could never have been that foundation on which Hemingway could build his career. So ultimately, we read her story, not because we're interested in her particularly, but because we're interested in whatever else we can find out about Hemingway. This is not the first time I've done this. I once read a biography about Ted Hughes just to find out more about Sylvia Plath from a different angle. 

Anyways, the point is that I liked this book, but it wasn't extremely compelling. I think I liked it more because it put me back in that 1920s Paris setting, and it involved a lot of characters I know and like. On its own? About people I don't know anything about? Probably not that great. Which is sad, because there is a lot of potential for human drama.

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