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The Paris Wife

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The Paris Wife

A Novel
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    ONE

    The very first thing he does is fix me with those wonderfully brown eyes and say, "It's possible I'm too drunk to judge, but you might have something there."

    It's October 1920 and jazz is everywhere. I don't know any jazz, so I'm playing Rachmaninoff. I can feel a flush beginning in my cheeks from the hard cider my dear pal Kate Smith has stuffed down me so I'll relax. I'm getting there, second by second. It starts in my fingers, warm and loose, and moves along my nerves, rounding through me. I haven't been drunk in over a year--not since my mother fell seriously ill--and I've missed the way it comes with its own perfect glove of fog, settling snugly and beautifully over my brain. I don't want to think and I don't want to feel, either, unless it's as simple as this beautiful boy's knee inches from mine.

    The knee is nearly enough on its own, but there's a whole package of a man attached, tall and lean, with a lot of very dark hair and a dimple in his left cheek you could fall into. His friends call him Hemingstein, Oinbones, Bird, Nesto, Wemedge, anything they can dream up on the spot. He calls Kate Stut or Butstein (not very flattering!), and another fellow Little Fever, and yet another Horney or the Great Horned Article. He seems to know everyone, and everyone seems to know the same jokes and stories. They telegraph punch lines back and forth in code, lightning fast and wisecracking. I can't keep up, but I don't mind really. Being near these happy strangers is like a powerful transfusion of good cheer.

    When Kate wanders over from the vicinity of the kitchen, he points his perfect chin at me and says, "What should we name our new friend?"

    "Hash," Kate says.

    "Hashedad's better," he says. "Hasovitch."

    "And you're Bird?" I ask.

    "Wem," Kate says.

    "I'm the fellow who thinks someone should be dancing." He smiles with everything he's got, and in very short order, Kate's brother Kenley has kicked the living room carpet to one side and is manning the Victrola. We throw ourselves into it, dancing our way through a stack of records. He's not a natural, but his arms and legs are free in their joints, and I can tell that he likes being in his body. He's not the least shy about moving in on me either. In no time at all our hands are damp and clenched, our cheeks close enough that I can feel the very real heat of him. And that's when he finally tells me his name is Ernest.

    "I'm thinking of giving it away, though. Ernest is so dull, and Hemingway? Who wants a Hemingway?"

    Probably every girl between here and Michigan Avenue, I think, looking at my feet to keep from blushing. When I look up again, he has his brown eyes locked on me.

    "Well? What do you think? Should I toss it out?"

    "Maybe not just yet. You never know. A name like that could catch on, and where would you be if you'd ditched it?"

    "Good point. I'll take it under consideration."

    A slow number starts, and without asking, he reaches for my waist and scoops me toward his body, which is even better up close. His chest is solid and so are his arms. I rest my hands on them lightly as he backs me around the room, past Kenley cranking the Victrola with glee, past Kate giving us a long, curious look. I close my eyes and lean into Ernest, smelling bourbon and soap, tobacco and damp cotton--and everything about this moment is so sharp and lovely, I do something completely out of character and just let myself have it.



    TWO

    There's a song from that time by Nora Bayes called "Make Believe," which might have been the most lilting and persuasive treatise on self-delusion I'd ever heard. Nora Bayes was beautiful, and...

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her, Ernest Hemingway wrote of his first wife, Hadley Richardson. This remarkable audiobook imaginatively recreates Hemingway's world as seen through Hadley's eyes. Narrator Carrington MacDuffie portrays this ardent yet grounded woman well, capturing her departure from ordinary life as she falls headlong in love with "Nesto." Hemingway pronounces Hadley "a good clear sort" of person, and MacDuffie beautifully expresses her levelheaded nature as lover, mother, and eventually, estranged wife. MacDuffie's ability to subtly characterize conversations between Hemingway and Hadley through slight shifts in tone and pacing is admirable. She's equally artful at depicting the many others populating the author's world--from son Bumby to Southern mistress Pauline. This terrific production will absorb all listeners, not just Hemingway fans. J.C.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award (c) AudioFile 2011, Portland, Maine
  • USA Today

    "McLain smartly explores Hadley's ambivalence about her role as supportive wife to a budding genius.... Women and book groups are going to eat up this novel."

  • Entertainment Weekly "By making the ordinary come to life, McLain has written a beautiful portrait of being in Paris in the glittering 1920s -- as a wife and one's own woman.... McLain's vivid, clear-voiced novel is a conjecture, an act of imaginary autobiography on the part of the author. Yet her biographical and geographical research is so deep, and her empathy for the real Hadley Richardson so forthright (without being intrusively femme partisan), that the account reads as very real indeed."
  • Associated Press "Written much in the style of Nancy Horan's Loving Frank ... Paula McLain's fictional account of Hemingway's first marriage beautifully captures the sense of despair and faint hope that pervaded the era and their marriage."
  • Parade
    "
    Lyrical and exhilarating.... McLain offers a raw and fresh look at the prolific Hemingway. In this mesmerizing and helluva-good-time novel, McLain inhabits Richardson's voice and guides us from Chicago--Richardson and Hemingway's initial stomping ground--to the place where their life together really begins: Paris." --Elle.com

    "McLain's vivid account of the couple's love affair and expat adventures will leave you feeling sad yet dazzled."
  • Town & Country "Told in the voice of Ernest Hemingway's first wife, The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, is a richly imagined portrait of bohemian 1920s Paris, and of America literature's original bad boy."
  • Christian Science Monitor "Novelist and memoirist Paula McLain traces the life of Hadley Hemingway, first wife of Ernest Hemingway, in this evocative novel set largely in Paris in the Jazz Age."
  • Newsday
    " "McLain's novel not only gives Hadley a voice, but one that seems authentic and admirable.... A certain amount of bravery is required in writing a novel that channels a giant of American literature. Yet McLain pulls it off convincingly, conveying Hemingway's interior life and his profound struggles. She makes a compelling case that Hadley was a crucial (and long-lasting) influence on Hemingway's writing life: a partner as well as a cheerleader. She also revisits, with remarkable detail, a singular era in history, one that would produce some of the greatest literary works of the 20th century."
  • Cleveland Plain Dealer
    "Engrossing and heartbreaking.... McLain is masterful at mining Hadley's confusion and pain, her crushing realization that she cannot fight for a love that has already disappeared."
  • Tucson Citizen "A well-crafted novel ... Paula McLain is a master at creating narratives that are so lively, they seem to leap from the printed page."
  • Naples Daily News "One of the most important books of this year. McLain is a novelist to watch."
  • Nancy Horan, New York Times bestselling author of Loving Frank "The Paris Wife is mesmerizing. Hadley Hemingway's voice, lean and lyrical, kept me in my seat, unable to take my eyes and ears away from these young lovers. Paula McLain is a first-rate writer who creates a world you don't want to leave. I loved this book."
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter, singer and songwriter "After nearly a century, there is a reason that the Lost Generation and Paris in the 1920's still fascinate. It was a unique intersection of time and place, people and inspiration, romance and intrigue, betrayal and tragedy. The Paris Wife brings that era to life through the eyes of Hadley Richardson Hemingway, who steps out of the shadows as the first wife of Ernest, and into the reader's mind, as beautiful and as luminous as those extraordinary days in Paris after the Great War."
  • Sarah Blake, New York Times bestselling author of The Postmistr "Despite all that has been written about Hemingway by others and by the man himself, the magic of The Paris Wife is that this Hemingway and this Paris, as imagined by Paula McLain, ring so true I felt as if I was eavesdropping on something new. As seen by the sure and steady eye of his first wife, Hadley, here is the spectacle of the man becoming the legend set against the bright jazzed heat of Paris in the 20s. As much about life and how we try and catch it as it is about love even as it vanishes, this is an utterly absorbing novel."
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A Novel
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