Monday, October 17, 2011

The Wife Life

Back in 1999, when I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband's friend, Dave, and I were discussing baby names.  Although Dave was single at the time, and didn't have plans to have a child any time soon, he told me that if he ever had a daughter, he was going to name her Brett, after the character in Hemmingway's novel, The Sun Also Rises.  I hadn't read The Sun at the time, but I decided that if there was a character in it who was worth naming one's daughter for, I should.  After reading The Sun, I had no idea what Dave (or for that matter, Jake Barnes) saw in Brett. 

Earlier this year, Paula McLain's book The Paris Wife came out, and I knew that I wanted to read it.  I had heard about Hemmingway's wife, Hadley, over the years, and wanted to read about what had happened that led to her destroying one of Hemmingway's novels.  The Paris Wife dispels the myth of a hysterical wife tearing apart a great work of literature, and tries to shed light on Hadley's role in shaping Hemmingway's early works.

Unfortunately, The Paris Wife was not a page turner.  I guess that when a person is well known only for being someone's wife, there may not be a lot to tell.  Curtis Sittenfeld did a better job in telling a fictionalized version of Laura Bush's life in American Wife, and Nancy Horan took the lessor known figure of Mamah Cheney and made her story interesting in her book, Loving Frank.  To be fair, Sittenfeld's book is pure fiction, and she doesn't even name the characters George and Laura Bush, and Nancy Horan had a great and forgotten true story to work with, but I was hoping for more from McLain. 

What the reader does learn is that Hadley was Hemmingway's wife when he wrote The Sun Also Rises, and that he based the story on real events that happened to them, changing only the names, and telling it in his voice.  Hadley is not the character of Brett, and is somehow absent from the story, even though she was very much there when the events happened in Hemmingway's life which he attributes to Jake Barnes.  The woman who inspired the character of Brett, Lady Duff Twysden, seems to have been much like the character.

Many years later, Dave had a daughter, and named her Avery.  But his idea must have stuck with me with me subconsciously.  My daughter's name is Hadley.

Next up:  Exhaust The Limits:  The Life and Times of a Global Peace Builder by Charles Dambach

Still Listening to:  Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

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