Please note: My “Reading Reflections” are not reviews. They are simply my thoughts in response to certain passages.
Truth be told, THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain is not the type of book I would have picked up on my own. A “biofic,” it might be called. But after seeing McLain at Books by the Banks last year, I wanted to know if her eloquence and enthusiasm translated to the page. (IMO, it did.) The story is told from the point of view of Hadley Hemingway, Ernest’s first wife, and focuses on their years together. As a woman in a committed relationship, I did connect with Hadley, but to my surprise, I found myself drawn more strongly to Ernest himself. Despite his boorish behavior at times, he was a writer, an artist above all else, and his absolute, uncompromising conviction stirred a lot of emotion in me.
(As did his insecurities. And Hadley’s.)
As I read, I wondered if Andy would identify with Hadley to some degree too. They’re both highly sensible, yet with enough of an artistic sensibility to connect with their creative partners, and they both have to deal with supporting — indirectly enduring? — the unstable, untraditional path of a writer. Granted, I don’t get drunk or fight bulls like Hemingway did… but still. I know it isn’t easy.
Anyway, I highlighted the HECK out of this book, and it was extremely hard to choose which quotes to feature here. I may end up having to do a couple short follow-up posts, actually, but these will do for now.
The whole time he talked fast about his plans, all the things he wanted for himself, the poems, stories, and sketches he was burning to write. I’d never met anyone so vibrant or alive. He moved like light. He never stopped moving — or thinking, or dreaming apparently. (15)
I remember showing my writing journals to Andy for the first time. How vulnerable and exposed I felt, because here were all my innermost ideas, laid bare to be read, possibly judged. Each hastily scribbled line was a seed; whether it would bloom or not, I had no idea. This was not a beautiful garden so much as a vast field that I tended and watched with tentative hope.
Fortunately Andy didn’t say much. He just flipped pages slowly, taking it all in, taking me in, with a kind of reverence that I noticed and appreciated.
His mood was pretty low during this time. He’d gotten several more rejections on stories he’d sent to magazines, and it hurt his pride. It was one thing when he was writing part-time and having no success. But now he was devoted to his craft, working every day, and still failing. What did that mean for the future? (67)
Oy, do I feel this. When you’ve put everything on the line — your reputation, your fortune, your heart — you can’t help but feel it. I am so lucky and thrilled that I could afford to quit my job and pursue writing full-time. But I’m terrified too.
In our circle, everyone believed things would hit for him, and that it was only a matter of time. “You’re making something new,” Pound told him one day in his studio. “Don’t forget that when it starts to hurt.”
“It only hurts to wait.”
“The waiting helps you boil it down. That’s essential, and the hurting helps everything along in its way.” (127)
Patience really is the hardest part. Thank god for the people who believe in you.
Now, switching from the writing focus to the relationship bits…
“Let’s always tell each other the truth. We can choose that, can’t we?” (47)
I feel like that’s a good motto in any relationship, but in a marriage especially. The truth may not always be easy or pretty, but it’s the only foundation you can build anything long-term on.
I also liked to look around at the houses surrounding the park and wonder about the people who filled them, what kinds of marriages they had and how they loved or hurt each other on any given day, and if they were happy, and whether they thought happiness was a sustainable thing. (92)
Do you ever play this game? I know I do. I speculate about couples at restaurants and on the bus, about celebrity couples, about couples I actually know. It’s as if I think figuring out their problems will help me solve — or avoid — my own.
But the truth is, we can’t compare our relationships to anyone else’s. There’s so much that goes on within each person’s heart, head, and home that we never see.
It gave me a sharp kind of sadness to think that no matter how much I loved him and tried to put him back together again, he might stay broken forever. (100)
I felt that way about someone once. I don’t love him anymore, not in that way, but I still think of him from time to time, and wonder about him, and hope for him.
“Sometimes I wish we could rub out all of our mistakes and start fresh, from the beginning,” I said. “And sometimes I think there isn’t anything to us but our mistakes.” (220)