The Paris Wife

by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife

Paperback, 331 pages, Random House Inc, List Price: $15 | purchase

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Book Summary

The Paris Wife follows the life of Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley, as she navigates 1920s Paris.

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Awards and Recognition

34 weeks on NPR Paperback Fiction Bestseller List

73 weeks on NPR Hardcover Fiction Bestseller List

NPR stories about The Paris Wife

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Portraits Of An Artist, A Correspondent, 'Gossip,' And The 'Piano'

"We know Ernest Hemingway as a brilliant writer with a larger-than-life personality," reports NPR's Lynn Neary. "He was a hard-drinking, macho guy who loved bullfighting and big-game hunting. He is less familiar as a young man in love. The object of the 20-year-old Hemingway's affections was Hadley Richardson, a pretty but unglamorous Midwesterner who was eight years his senior."

Best Books Of 2011

A Passion For The Past: 2011's Best Historical Fiction

All I knew of Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley, was that she lost one of his manuscripts on a train. Paula McLain's The Paris Wife reveals it was even worse than that — she actually lost everything he'd written while they were living in France. Having had the only copy of my manuscript of The Sunne in Splendour stolen from my car, I could identify with this horror story all too well, and McClain's account of the loss is not easily forgotten. The Paris

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: 'The Paris Wife'

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
 
The Paris Wife
By Paula McLain
Hardcover, 336 pages
Ballantine Books
List Price: $25

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."

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.

Excerpted from The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. Copyright © 2011 by Paula McLain. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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