An imaginative, elegantly written look inside the marriage of Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson.
Hadley, literary history tells us, was Hemingway’s rescuing angel; eight years older than he, she was the woman who lifted him from his postwar depression as a wounded veteran and helped restore his battered confidence. He, of course, was smitten; she was too, charmed by “his grin, elastic and devastating.” “To keep you from thinking,” McLain’s (A Ticket to Ride, 2008, etc.) narrator puts it, “there was liquor, an ocean’s worth at least, all the usual vices and plenty of rope to hang yourself with. But some of us, a very few in the end, bet on marriage against the odds.” Marriage it was, and from there McLain’s story becomes one of battling those long odds. After a sojourn in Toronto, the two head off to Paris—whence the title—at novelist Sherwood Anderson’s suggestion, not just to take advantage of the favorable exchange rate but also to plunge headlong into the most active literary scene on the planet. By McLain’s account, true to history, Hadley at times verges a touch on the naive but, for the most part, is tough and sophisticated; she holds her own with Ezra Pound (“He’s very noisy…but he has some fine ideas”) and Gertrude Stein, hangs tough with the bulls in Pamplona, and keeps up with Hemingway when he was young and vigorous and had not yet settled into his boozy “Papa” persona. McLain’s Hemingway is outwardly a touch less obdurate than even Hemingway’s own depiction of himself, especially at the climactic moment in which his manuscripts go missing, in which McLain puts a slight twist on history; clearly it marks the beginning of the end, whereupon the tale takes on the contour of a Jill Clayburgh vehicle. The closing pages, in particular, are both evocative and moving, taking in the sweep of events over a third of a century and providing a resolution that, if not neat, is wholly in character.
A pleasure to read—and a pleasure to see Hadley Richardson presented in a sympathetic light.