Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Erika Robuck and Michael Palin share some adventure time in My Year With Hemingway

Starting off the summer season in My Year With Hemingway, I decided to go for a book set in one of his favorite places,Key West in Florida during the 1930s.. The title of Erika Robuck's novel Hemingway's Girl does not refer to his then wife Pauline but to Mariella Bennet, a young woman who becomes their household maid.

Mariella is the sole supporter of her recently widowed mother Eva and her two younger sisters,Estelle and Lulu. She meets Hemingway by chance one night as the two of them are attending a local boxing match. He admires her strong will and during their friendship, refers to her as "daughter." Yet there is a slight air of  attraction between them.

Mariella does her best to ignore that depth of feeling towards him and it helps that she falls in love with Gavin, a WWI vet who is working on a government construction project.  Not to mention while working for the Hemingways, she gets to see both the good and bad of the acclaimed author's nature.

One of the strengths of the book is how well developed a character Mariella is(she's loosely based on a real life person in Hemingway's life at that time) and how even without Hemingway, her story is truly compelling. From mourning the loss of her father to working out her feelings for Gavin and Hemingway, as well as working towards a dream to have her own fishing boat, she is a solid leading lady in her own right.

There are some moments in the book that brought to mind another wonderful novel involving a legendary artist and a young maid who inspired him. Girl with a Pearl Earring touched upon similar themes yet Hemingway's Girl has a more down to earth sensibility in it's depiction of an artist and potential muse. Mariella always insisted that Hemingway never use her as one of his characters and it's a promise that he keeps,for the most part:

Erika Robuck not only gives her characters, fictional and otherwise, vivid lives on the page, she also blends in a true historical event known as the Labor Day hurricane of 1935.

 Hemingway assisted in the clean-up of the devastating aftermath of that storm and wrote a scathing article about the lack of government effort to protect the people caught in it's path. That disaster fits well into the story and adds some extra substance to the overall arch of the novel.

While Hemingway's Girl has  it's own unique style, I believe that fans of historical Hemingway fiction like The Paris Wife would truly enjoy this book. It's a wonderfully woven tale that gives it's heroine her independence while allowing the spirit of Ernest Hemingway to make his mark upon her journey towards adulthood:

 As a companion piece, I watched Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure, a travel documentary that the Monty Python player did for the BBC back in the late 1990s. As a fan of the author, Palin was delighted to visit the many places around the world that Hemingway had been, from Spain to Key West to Cuba as well as parts of Africa and even the Chicago suburbs where Hemingway grew up.

He sets  out to do some of the things that Hemingway did in life, such as hunt and fish(with less than thrilling results) and during his time in Cuba, makes several attempts to interview Castro. That running gag is one of many humorous highlights that Palin uses to enhance the experience for the viewers and he succeeds splendidly at that:

The only real flaw in the series is that the sequences are not set within a linear time frame. We go from one place to the other without much rhyme or reason to anchor the trip,for the first half,anyway. It didn't need to be a complete birth to death timeline but a little more structure might have helped. Nonetheless, Palin does entertain as well as inform both readers and viewers alike.

Well, this is a nice start to my summer and my next literary stop will be A Moveable Feast (which is actually a reread for me). I hope everyone has a grand Fourth of July weekend and to send you off with a song in your heart, here's my theme song pick for Hemingway's Girl.

 ABBA may not seem very Hemingway-esque but the heartfelt lyrics of "Chiquitita" reflect the emotional connection between Mariella and Ernest Hemingway nearly pitch perfect to me:

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