Book Reviews

Book Review: Everyone Behaves Badly

I think it’s official. I’m obsessed with all things Lost Generation in Paris. Once I finally got around to reading The Sun Also Rises I loved it. I enjoyed the historical fiction The Paris Wife about the period told from Hadley Hemingway’s point of view. Gatsby is one of my favorite novels, enjoyed West of Sunset, the fictional account of Fitzgerald’s final days in Hollywood before his early death. I’ve binge watched the first season of Zelda: The Beginning of Everything on Amazon (and yes, I know it’s a book, I’ll get to it eventually), and now I’ve just finished this. If you have any more suggestions on the subject, I’d happily take them in the comments.

I found this book fascinating. It’s tough for me to get into historical accounts sometimes–they usually read very dryly to me. This, however, felt more like history unfolding as I read. Leslie Blume has a true gift for turning facts into an intriguing narrative (or I just find the subject that interesting).

She masterfully captured the duality of Hemingway in his early years–desperate and driven to be published and adored but afraid what he has to say doesn’t as revolutionary as he thinks. Once I started getting into Hemingway as a person, I found his confidence partly a cover for his insecurities. He was an unforgiving person personally, but his talent allowed him to behave in a way where a normal person would be shunned from his group of friends. He continuously found mentors, used them up, and then spit them out as if he never needed them in the first place.

Blume recounts Hemingway’s Paris life with great detail and insight. The book is well researched. She covers his almost apprenticeship with Gertrude Stein, his amazing ability to get people to vouch for him so that he could run in prestigious literary circles without having anything to show for his own work… yet. Hemingway’s ability to sell himself without proving it shines on every page.

What I enjoyed most about the book was Blume’s details about how Sun impacted the real people who Hemingway turned into characters. I knew the novel was closely based on a real trip he orchestrated, but it was enlightening to read about the trip that inspired the novel… especially since it seemed more like a report than fiction. And how had it not been for Fitzgerald, Hemingway might not have been able to get his infamous novel into mass production. Hemingway’s ambition would have certainly found a way eventually, but Fitzgerald paved the way for a shorter path to wild success. Would he have been able to stay in the lime light a bit longer had he focused more on his own career? We’ll never know for sure.

In the end, this book confirmed what I’d always suspected of Hemingway. He was the example of “everyone behaving badly” but his behavior produced masterful, terse prose, the world forgave him for it. We even celebrate him for it. And that’s a theme we struggle with over and over again–should we appreciate the artist separately from his or her personal behavior to appreciate the greatness? Or should we take it all into consideration when judging a body of work?

If you’re the least bit curious about Hemingway as a deeply flawed person, this book provides excellent, well researched insight into his early years where he struggled but fought hard for his place in literary history.

 

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