Sunday, June 1, 2014

Mrs. Hemingway: A Novel by Naomi Wood

Mrs. Hemingway: A Novel.  Naomi Wood. Viking/Penguin Group (USA). May 2014. 336 pp.  ISBN#: 9780143124610.

Hadley, Fife, Martha and Mary were all women with the title of Mrs. Hemingway at different times obviously; but this is the story of their immense love for the famous author and lover, Ernest Hemingway.  It’s about their coping with the fact that they were losing him to “another woman” and their connection with each other despite the fact that divorce and then death robbed each of the greatest love known. 

Hadley was the quietest of the four women, of little wit and yet whose role as not only lover but also editor of her husband’s short stories and early novels cemented the early years of their marriage.  She is the one who loved him through his early writing failures and the constant poverty that stalked the young couple during those barren years. How pivotal was the early loss of Hemingway’s early works and was this an unforgivable act that was part of the eventual demise of a deep relationship? Was Hadley responsible for losing Ernest to another woman by including her in their every vacation and social gathering? The reader cannot help but question why she continued these perverse invitations when she gradually began to realize she was losing him.

Fife was the most energetic of the three, a woman who was so vivacious that no one knew what she would say or do next, the daredevil of them all.  Most intriguing is her closeness to both Hadley and Ernest, even after he had abandoned Hadley and married Fife.  How long would that unique zest for life satisfy the ever-leering Hemingway whose unfaithfulness seemed a vital part of his life, as important as his writing and his need for danger?

Pauline Pfeiffer (Fife) was replaced twenty years later by Martha Gelhorn, a woman who never wanted to be married and who craved the journalistic excitement provided by revolutions and wars overseas.  That shared zest for danger united them until he wanted her to quit working and devote her life to children, a rift that eventually drove Ernest to Mary who loved Ernest’s love for writing and words more than anything else about him. It was Mary who most had to deal with his ever-looming depressive bouts and eventual suicide.

Mrs. Hemingway is fascinating reading for the way the focus is really on these four women and not on the moods and raucous behavior of their husband.  While one might think it’s a tedious story, Naomi Wood has managed to craft a story that gives unique qualities to each woman and yet shows how a particular pattern followed each marriage, ironically one that the wives never really challenge during the time they spent with this wild but unpredictable man.  Nice job, Naomi Wood and a strong addition to the fiction about this most outrageous but talented journalist and author!

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