Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, August 22, 2020

"Hemingway's Girl" by Erika Robuck


Funny that I'd been talking about my interest in more stories of Hemingway's women when I posted about Love and Ruin back in June. Earlier this month as I was scanning my bookshelves, looking for my next read, I pounced on this one as soon as it caught my eye. I have no memory of where or when I bought it (although the price tag on the front makes me think it was probably from a Friends of the Library bookstore, because where else can you find such amazing deals?) but I'm sure it was months (if not years) ago, and it felt as if I had wished it into existence.

This book wasn't exactly what I was looking for, as the titular female is a fictional one, but the story takes place during Hemingway's marriage to Pauline (or "Fife") in Key West in the 30s. And I feel like Robuck does just as good a job as Paula McLain in painting a picture of Ernest Hemingway as seen through others' eyes--so much so that the three books could all be of a series by the same author, the characterizations dovetailing nicely. The fictional character here, though she is the main character, doesn't eclipse Hemingway or relegate him to a bit part; rather, she serves to showcase his larger-than-life persona.

The "girl" of the title is a nineteen-year-old native of Key West, half Cuban, who is hired as a housekeeper for the Hemingways. Insatiable as he is, Ernest is of course attracted to her (and the feeling is mutual) but Mariella is also forming a relationship with a young WWI veteran who is working on the Overseas Highway. At times the book does inch dangerously close to a silly romance, but it never went far enough to earn my scorn.

I'm wanting to read How it Was and Ruth Hawkins' book about the Hem-Fife marriage even more now. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

"Hangsaman" by Shirley Jackson

This is a weird little story that I'd never heard of before, but its title caught my eye (helped along by the presence of the little penguin on the spine) and of course I've heard of Shirley Jackson, although perhaps her short story "The Lottery" and her ghost story The Haunting of Hill House may be the only works of hers that I've previously read. (I've definitely heard of We Have Always Lived in the Castle but, dang amnesia, I can't remember if I've read it.) I was also intrigued by the cover. Those blood splatters might be somewhat misleading but it would have been a boring cover without them.

Hangsaman is the story of Natalie Waite, a seventeen-year-old girl on the verge of leaving for college. Her father is a semi-famous writer who encourages her own writing talent, and right from the beginning it is evident that Natalie has a lot going on inside her mind, something more than just a vivid imagination. Not surprisingly, at college she is lonely and has trouble fitting in. By the time she befriends Tony it's almost impossible to tell what is actually happening outside of Natalie's head and what is only happening inside it. I was kind of hoping (but simultaneously fearing) that the book would end with another character explaining ("Here's what really happened . . . ) but I was disappointed (and relieved) to be left to figure it out on my own. 

I bought this book in a great but tiny used book store in Santa Fe, a fun place to browse if you ever have the time . . . I wish I could remember the name of it. Maybe Palace Avenue Books?