Friday, February 17, 2012

Reviews: The Paris Wife (McLain) and Then Came You (Weiner)

I confess....I read these in the opposite order but want to put The Paris Wife first since its a PBFingers book club pick. 

I'll include a quick added note that I think I'm pulling out of my mental funk but I still have no energy or motivation for my workouts.  I'm hoping that returns soon. 

I nearly skipped this round of the PBFingers book club.  I'm not big on romances and couldn't find a super-cheap copy.  But I've come to appreciate historical fiction and I really enjoyed Loving Frank and it shared a similar theme.  Plus, I'll be honest, I got a ton of extra blog traffic with the last book club link up.

This is a fictionalized account of the love affair between Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson.  Hadley is 28 when she meets Hemingway, eight years her junior, at a party.  The pair soon marries and most of the book centers on their years in Paris between the two World Wars.  The attraction is immediate and the love affair builds quickly over correspondence due to distance.  Hemingway is not yet the famous author he becomes and much of the novel sees him struggling to write and to build a name for himself.   In addition to the main couple, we meet a lot of famous ex-pats who were part of the art scene. 

I didn't dislike the book, but I didn't like it either.  I found myself continuously wanting to enjoy it much more than I did.  As I've said before, I'm motivated more by character than plot but I never felt overly interested in Hadley (although that's long been "my" girl baby name in my head) or Ernest.  I felt like I should be interested but simply was never compelled.  I didn't really understand Hadley and at time it felt like one big exercise in name dropping.  I'll give in 3.5 stars simply for the amount of research involved, but it is definitely a "round down" book for me.
I'm picky with my "chick lit".   I like to occasionally pick up a book that falls into that realm for a little bit of a mental holiday, but I only really enjoy a few authors.  Weiner has written a few of my favorites in this realm so I was glad to pick this one up after sludging through The New Republic.

This book has several female narrators all tied by a thread: they are all involved in a surrogate pregnancy.  There is the intended mom, her step-daughter, a young egg donor, and a surrogate who is desperate for the money.  The novel explores both the physical and mental aspects of the journey for all of the characters.  I found myself most interested in Jules, the egg donor whom we meet while she is on scholarship at Princeton and who wants to money to help her dad get into drug and alcohol rehab. 

I tend to like the multiple narrator technique and was able to keep the numerous stories straight.  However, I couldn't put my finger on what bothered me until I read it in another review -- the women all "sound" identical.  Their stories are fairly diverse, but the voice really doesn't vary.  I also felt like they were all pretty one felt too real or, despite tons of obstacles thrown at them, too complex.  I think Weiner may have spent her best stories early and may be suffering from simply trying to write too many books.  It was an interesting plot but lacked the texture that made a few of her early works (Good in Bed and In Her Shoes) special.  Three stars. 


Netherland said...

The Paris Wife by Paula McClain starts of slowly as the 28 year old Hadley meets and falls in love with the then unknown Ernest Hemingway. As they build their lives together, the engaging Hadley gradually comes to realize what it means to commit such a talented, ambitious and complicated man. The story then follows the ups and downs of their marriage, while vibrantly capturing the mood of the literary set in 1920s Paris. The Hemingway's circle included the Fitzgeralds, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein amongst others and these famous folk have walk on appearances throughout the novel. The Paris Wife is a delight for avid readers and those curious about the literary legend.

Panda Friendly One Way Links website said...

The descriptions of Paris and other European cities, the conversations between artists, and the cultural exploits are divine. This is a must read.