The Paris Wife, The Art Thief, Love and Shame, and How It All Began
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The Paris Wife
by Paula McLain (Ballantine Books, $25.00)
Wife is a fictionalized account of the artistic giants who came to Paris
in the 1920’s. It is also the story of Hadley Richardson, Ernest
Hemingway’s first wife, and how their relationship developed and
eventually fell apart during the six years of their marriage. Paula
McLain has done extensive research on her subject and tells a compelling
story without becoming judgmental.
Hadley is a solidly built, sporty, and mildly rebellious young woman
of 29 when she meets Hemingway, only 21, in Chicago while visiting a
friend from her hometown of St. Louis. She is smart and a talented
pianist, but not sophisticated or stylish, and lacks the rapier wit so
valued in this era. He is a young and determined writer who is drinking
hard and fighting hard. He cannot sleep without a light on; being
injured in WWI has left him older than his years and with what today
would be diagnosed as PTSD. They share strong emotional bonds of
controlling mothers and fathers who commit suicide.
They marry and plan on going to Italy, but playwright Sherwood
Anderson convinces them that Paris is the place for a writer to be.
“Everything’s interesting and everyone has something to contribute.
Paris, Hem, give it some thought.” Once there they encounter Ezra Pound,
Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, among other
literati, and become part of a world of endless parties, hard drinking,
and sexual adventuring.
Hemingway at times exhibits jealousy toward his
more financially successful compatriots, eventually even writing a
scathing parody, The Torrents of Spring, of his early supporter Sherwood
Anderson. Nearly everyone who reads it, including his close friend
Gertrude Stein who ends their relationship over this book, feels it is
mean-spirited and ungrateful of him to publish, but he persists.
The perfect “starter” wife, Hadley is endlessly supportive of
Hemingway’s needs and wants. She completely subjugates her own needs to
his, partly out of a deep love and partly out of respect for his genius.
Hadley becomes pregnant and gives birth to their son Bumby.
Hemingway loves his son but also feels encumbered by the
responsibilities of fatherhood. Hadley is Ernest’s head cheerleader, but
never quite fits into the world she now inhabits; she is a little
awkward and a little in awe of the geniuses around her. By nature, she
is more conventional than they. Not really interested in style, she also
lacks the funds to dress as her friends do and is not as thin as
fashion decrees. She knows she is competent as a pianist, but lacks the
confidence to pursue a concert career in a more than dilatory
Hemingway, in the meantime, immerses himself in this culture, and
spends most of his time with friends or writing in a small room he has
rented for that purpose. Eventually, on their pilgrimage to the running
of the bulls in Pamplona, he meets Duff Twysden and has his first
serious affair. She becomes the model for Lady Brett Ashley in The Sun
Also Rises. Hadley reads between the lines of the manuscript and is
devastated not only because she is quite sure of his infidelity, but
more because she plays no part in the book and thus, she is afraid, in
his mind and heart.
When the couple becomes close friends with Pauline Pfeiffer and her
sister, Pauline becomes a serious sounding board for Hemingway’s work,
where Hadley is the cheerleader. It does not take long for Hadley’s
growing suspicions to be confirmed; he is once more involved with
another woman, this time more seriously. Hemingway begs her to stay and
allow his alliance with Pauline to continue in the open, with all three
remaining friends, but Hadley cannot handle such an arrangement. She
picks herself up and returns to the U.S. with Bumby. Pauline becomes the
second of Hemingway’s three wives, and Hadley moves on to a successful
if less passionate second
Is this a repeat of the “starter wife” syndrome with which we are
all familiar, or the story of a woman who believes so thoroughly in her
husband’s genius that she totally devotes her life to its furtherance?
Could Hadley just not keep up, or was her love for Hemingway a safe
haven for him that he finally felt was not enough for him? Was she just a
little too thick to fulfill all his needs, or could no one woman have
Toward the end of his life Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.
Of course, McLain takes us to Paris during one of the most
glittering periods in American literature. These expatriates define
brilliance, while rejecting the usual mores, and it is worthwhile
reading if only to get a sense of what it was like to inhabit that time
and place.—Cynthia Taubert
The Art Thief
by Noah Charney (Washington Square Press, $15).
paced, intriguing entanglements plus a storyline sustained through an
action-oriented writing style create a grand adventure into the world of
stolen art. The author, founder of the first international think tank
on art crime, maintains interest through both detectives’ capers and a
rich tapestry of art details.
Settings vary from the cultural centers of contexts of the artistic
connoisseur—antique houses, museums and private galleries.
Seasoned insights enrich the story line. For example, the author points
out the two primary motivations for art theft—a work commissioned for
filching or as an added piece fora private collection. After all, the
work cannot be sold on the open market.
Confrontational interchanges reinforce the high stakes and emotional
involvement of art world participants. Witness this phone conversation of a Parisian curator with a London Christie Auction House
administrator: “I’m telling you it’s a fake... How am I so sure?
Because the painting is here...in the vault in the basement.” Earthy
insults reinforce the humanness and undermine the civil stereotypes of
art world transactions.
Vivid details of the principle players add resonance. Here the
reader encounters Detective Gabriel Coffin who prefers three piece
suits, French cuffs, a bowler hat, a mahogany cane, basset hounds,
eating lobster without utensils and chocolate bars with a knife and
fork. Though considering himself an intellectual, he plays poker on
alternate Tuesdays with a policeman, a plumber and a mechanic. He muses
that these three are among the most intelligent but least intellectual
men he knows. A closing value-added section offers readers book club
discussion questions, “A Conversation with Noah Charney,” plus related books and films.—Virginia H. Jones
Love and Shame
and Love by Peter Orner (Little, Brown and Company,
Don’t be put off by the flat-footed title of this new novel.
Set mainly in the Windy City and Highland Park, Love and Shame and Love
opens with an epigraph from Saul Bellow: “In Chicago I had unfinished
emotional business.” The novel then chronicles, in highly original
fashion, the lives and loves of three generations in a Chicago Jewish
family, filtering events and perceptions through the consciousness of
its third-generation protagonist, Alexander Popper.
Peter Orner, who grew up locally and now teaches creative writing at
San Francisco State, has produced a lyrical, literary, and playful
novel. The narrative is not a straight chronology with standard prose
chapters, but rather a series of vignettes, some of them almost poetry,
that gradually develop the main character’s perspective on life. The
book also features captivating pen and ink illustrations by Eric Orner,
the writer’s brother.
Lake Michigan is a felt presence in the novel, and Orner lards the
text with references to familiar local places (e.g., the Pump Room, the
Standard Club), as well as to social and political events from the
second half of the twentieth century. Various Chicago personalities also
make the scene: Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz, the first Mayor Daley,
Irv Kupcinet. Throughout, Popper evinces a kind of Stoical sadness
about life and its vicissitudes. In the final scene, he stands by the
shore of Lake Michigan in January, studying the colors in front of him
and the “jagged breakers rising out of the water like broken teeth.”
Reflecting on his life he thinks, “The lake is always east. East is
always the lake. Anywhere else he’s ever been he never knows where he
Like Sandburg’s famous poem, Love and Shame and Love is a complex
portrait of Chicago -- and to Sandburg’s string of epithets for the City
of the Big Shoulders, Orner’s book might be said to add Shaper of
Destinies. The novel is a rich addition to the shelf of literature about
life here along the lake.—Julie West Johnson
How It All Began
by Penelope Lively
(Viking, $26.95). Drawing upon the
theory of the butterfly effect, which suggests that even the rustle of
air caused by the wings of an insect half a world away can impact us
all, author Lively, always the astute observer of modern English life,
creates a chain of unanticipated events set in motion by the mugging of
elderly Charlotte Rainsford. Unexpectedly—or perhaps not so
unexpectedly—Charlotte’s life and those around her change in new and
Charlotte recovers in the home of her daughter and son-in-law, Rose
and Gerry. Charlotte is surprised to learn that Gerry is not quite as
boring as she had believed and never learns that Anton, the immigrant to
whom she teaches English, falls in love with Rose and that Rose
reciprocates that feeling. Furthermore, Rose’s employer, a
self-important retired historian who imagines that the world eagerly
awaits his new television series on 18th century English life, finds
himself confronting his personal assistant and BBC TV executives who are
eager to exploit his knowledge and just as ready to abandon the project
when complications arise. Throw into the mix a relationship that
teeters back and forth between the comfort of married life and the fear
of the unknown reality of divorce and Lively has stirred the cauldron
thoroughly enough to keep her reader
absorbed once again.
Lively explores the power of both stories and chance in our lives.
“Powerful things, stories,” Charlotte tells Anton. The story of each
life in this slim novel and how each is connected to the other as
delicately as the wings of an insect is a delight.
—By Susan E. Zinner
Published: April 14, 2012
Issue: Spring 2012 Issue