Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"The Paris Wife"

Paula McLain received an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan and has been a resident of Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. She is the author of two collections of poetry, as well as a memoir, Like Family, and a first novel, A Ticket to Ride.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Paris Wife, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Paris Wife is representative of the whole, and very much hooked in to one of the principal tensions of the book. In it, Ernest and Hadley Hemingway are newly married. It’s 1921, Chicago, and Hadley is witnessing a major depressive episode in Ernest for the first time. Worried, she begins to wonder about the nature of his sadness, how deep it goes, and where it comes from, and if there’s any way she can truly help him through it. The situation is further attenuated by Hadley’s history: her father committed suicide when she was thirteen.

Here’s an excerpt. Note, when Ernest talks about being “shot up,” he’s referring to his trench mortar wound in WWI….
Hours later, Ernest woke up and called out for me through darkened room.

“I’m here,” I said, going to him.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I get like this sometimes, but I don’t want you to think you’re getting a bum horse in the deal.”

“What sets it off?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know, it just comes.”

I lay down quietly next to him and stroked his forehead lightly as he talked.

“When I got shot up, I had it pretty rough for a while. If it was daytime and I was doing something, fishing or working, anything, I was okay. Or at night, if I had a light on and could think about something else until I fell asleep. If I could name all the rivers I’d ever seen. Or I’d map out a city I’d lived in before, and try to remember all the streets and the good bars and people I met there and things they’d said. But other times it was too dark and too quiet, and I’d start to remember things I didn’t want in my head at all. Do you know how that is?”

“I do a little, yes.” I held him tightly. “It scares me, though. I never knew my father was so unhappy, but then he was gone. It all got to be too much for him.” I paused, trying to get this part right. “Do you think you’ll know when it’s too much for you? Before it’s too late, I mean.”

“Do you want a promise?”

“Can you?”
Read an excerpt from The Paris Wife, and learn more about the author and her work at Paula McLain's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue