Hemingway’s Girl is a fictional portrayal of the life of Ernest Hemingway from the point of view of Mariella Bennet, a young Cuban-American girl who is struggling to make ends meet. Mariella is a strong, independent woman who, because of the tragic death of her father, is tasked with the responsibility of caring for her grieving mother and two younger sisters. She often goes hungry, works at the fishing docks for tips, and has to steal just to feed her family. To pay the rent, Mariella finds herself betting on local boxing matches to build upon the tips she has earned throughout her work day. It’s at one of these matches that she meets the famed Ernest Hemingway. Upon meeting Hemingway, Mariella is immediately drawn to and caught up in a mutual attraction with the famous writer, who, at the time, was married to his second wife, Pauline. Shortly after their meeting, Mariella is hired on as a maid in Hemingway’s Key West home, which only serves to intensify and complicate their relationship and attraction. While trying to sort through her feelings and her resulting guilt, Mariella meets Gavin, a WWI vet and boxer, while in Hemingway’s company. Her attraction to him, like her attraction to “Papa” Hemingway, is instantaneous, but far less complicated. Mariella must decide whether to give into her temptation with the infamous lady’s man writer, or to hold tightly to the steadfast boxer with eyes only for her.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel. Like many others who pick up Hemingway’s Girl, I have read Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife and was eager to read more about the complicated character and life of Ernest Hemingway. Also, having read Receive Me Falling, Erika Robuck’s debut novel, I had high hopes for this book. My hopes were met and exceeded by leaps and bounds. The story was wonderfully written, flowed beautifully, and kept me engaged from the first page to the last.
A book taking place in Key West just begs to be read at the beach, so I spent my first three hours with Hemingway’s Girl at the beach down the street from my house (and I have the sunburn to prove it!) A neighborhood beach in Baltimore pales in comparison to the crystal clear water and white sands of Key West, but it added to the inherent beauty of the novel nonetheless.
While I expected this novel to be an in-depth and behind the scenes view of Hemingway and his life with his second wife, much like The Paris Wife was about the first, Hemingway’s presence and story in this novel seemed to serve more as a catalyst to the greater story of the culture and drama of depression-era Key West. Not only has Mrs. Robuck done her research on Hemingway and his life, but the reader stands to learn a lot about bigotry in Key West in the 1930’s, the complicated relationship between WWI vets and civilians, and about the Labor Day hurricane of 1935. There are so many knowledge bombs dropped in this book, that any other writer would have had her readers’ heads spinning. But, this novel is written so wonderfully, and in such a relatable manner, that the reader is sucked into and truly feeling the story and circumstances as they unfold. I, like I’m sure many readers, alternately found myself rooting for something to happen between Mariella and Hemingway (and feeling bad about it), and falling in love with Gavin right along with the main character.
Erika Robuck had me going from laughing to crying and from heartbreak to elation at the drop of a hat. I had this experience with Receive Me Falling as well, and was lucky enough to have the opportunity to tell her so when she visited my college English class while she was in the process of writing this book. Eliciting strong emotion from her readers appears to be a particular talent of this author, and I look forward to having the experience again as I read more of her work.