Why would I want to write a critique of a novel that’s already been a New York Times Bestseller? Well, I don’t, really, but I do want to offer my reasons for loving a historical I missed when others were enjoying it.
Paula McLain’s PARIS WIFE lingers with me like the fragrance of Southern gardenias on June’s warm breath. I can’t get over how well it’s written, how fully she’s fleshed out the characters who will live with me forever, characters whom I’d already known through fiction and poetry of their own–Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway. Oh, how I wish I had lived in THE PARIS WIFE before I had lived in these writers’ own writing, but, of course, that is unrealistic without time travel–and that’s another theory in itself, string theory, quantum physics, dark matter and all that.
PARIS WIFE is absolutely one of the best historicals I have enjoyed in a long time. Some would call it historical romance; others might categorize it a historical based on a love affair. To me it’s all the same: a good story with all the qualities of good writing. Pure and simple, it’s what I deem good writing, which equals good literature. Yes, I think it qualifies as literature in a day when so few care about the nature of that beast–thus, one of the reasons I believe PARIS WIFE made the New York Times Bestseller list.
PARIS WIFE gives writers reason to want to create quality stories that will stay on bookshelves to be revisited, especially since it offers a fictional account of the lives of some of the greatest writers we know–Hemingway foremost–as the Lost Generation. Even Hemingway struggled to be known, to get his work published by houses he felt worthy of his work. His story is heartbreaking and enlightening. His career and his perfectly matched marriage to Hadley Richardson were a conflict, not because he and Hadley weren’t a right couple, but because she wasn’t up to his forward-bound career. McLain paints Hemingway’s life and career to be a dichotomy and leaves it a troubling nighttime story to endure. In the end she leaves an enduring gift to those who recognize what is both a wonderful story and a story wonderfully written.