The Power of a Story: Ponderings on The Paris Wife

Posted on Nov 3, 2011 in reading, writing | 0 comments

This story hit me on an emotional level that I was not prepared for.

Yes, in technical terms, many of the right things were there: The writing was eloquent. The story was interesting and well-paced. The characters were developed into believable persons. (According to the author’s “Note on Sources,” she did a great deal of research–using Hemingway’s memoir and other writings–to capture the characters and circumstances as accurately as possible.)

But the most important thing is what this story left with me after I turned the last page: It brought me closer to a very famous writer and helped me care about him and understand why he is important.

I started this novel feeling about Hemingway the way I’ve felt about most classic authors: there was a cold distance between us. His world was not like my world, his writing was not like the writing I’m used to, and as such, he felt like a fictional character that I could never really know or understand.

It took a fictional story to bridge the emotional gap between me and a once-living person.

At some point in my reading of The Paris Wife, the distance between generations fell away, Hemingway became real, and I found myself wanting to know more about him: his world, his story, his struggles, the way he approached writing, the reasons behind his fame.

Even though (or, perhaps, because) the story is written from the perspective of Hadley (Hemingway’s first wife), the spark to know Hemingway was still ignited in me. And that interest continued to expand, until I felt a similar interest in other classic writers–many of whom were Hemingway’s friends.

When I put the book down for the last time, I felt feverish. For days, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It was a distraction; it had sent my mind into a flurry on all sorts of topics and emotions: from compassion for Hadley to questions about what makes a person a writer and what a writer must do to influence his or her craft.

To know where to take your craft, it helps if you know where your craft has been. I’d been missing this important piece of the puzzle because my heart couldn’t relate. Until now.

This is a powerful place to be. I continue to feel a desire to connect to the past–to other very successful writers–and I imagine this perspective can only increase my effectiveness as a writer in the months and years to come.


Should you read this story? 

Yes, definitely. I think it is worth your time. You may not have as powerful a connection with the story as I had, but even without that, I think the story is entertaining and fascinating. The writing draws you in; the relationships between the characters are complex, beautiful, and heartbreaking.

And of course, if you’ve already read The Paris Wife, I’d love to hear your thoughts!




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