Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck

I haven’t read a lot of Hemingway except in college classes. I distinctly remember the short story Like Water for Elephants for one class, and I took a one-credit class on his writing, but that class also concentrated on his short stories. I think I may have had to read Old Man and the Sea, too, because I remember that one. There are a lot of things to like about Hemingway’s sparse writing style, if not the content. And in junior high I had to do a book report on Key West. Much of the literature received from the chamber of commerce focused on Hemingway’s home in the keys and the polydactyl cats that inhabited it.

“In Depression-era Key West, Mariella Bennet, the daughter of an American fisherman and a Cuban woman, knows hunger. Her struggle to support her family following her father’s death leads her to a bar and bordello, where she bets on a risky boxing match…and attracts the interest of two men: world-famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, and Gavin Murray, one of the WWI veterans who are laboring to build the Overseas Highway.

When Mariella is hired as a maid by Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline, she enters a rarified world of lavish, celebrity-filled dinner parties and elaborate off-island excursions. As she becomes caught up in the tensions and excesses of the Hemingway household, the attentions of the larger-than-life writer become a dangerous temptation…even as the reliable Gavin Murray draws her back to what matters most. Will she cross an invisible line with the volatile Hemingway, or find a way to claim her own dreams? As a massive hurricane bears down on Key West, Mariella faces some harsh truths…and the possibility of losing everything she loves.”

Hemingway’s Girl (Amazon) would have been a lot better for me had I actually read the book and not listened to the audiobook. The narrator, Tavia Gilbert was just all right. She sounded young and naive’ the way Mariella should, but she sounded the same for the three main male characters, Hemingway, Gavin, and John, so if I wasn’t listening carefully, I couldn’t figure out who was talking. It got annoying after a while, and found I couldn’t enjoy the book as much with that problem.

I thought the premise was all right and wholly believable if you’ve read anything about Hemingway’s turbulent personal life. But I never really believed Mariella would let Hemingway take advantage of her; she was too smart for that. That didn’t stop her from fantasizing about a relationship with him, even while dating Gavin, a World War I vet who is in Key West working on the Overseas Highway. Papa Hemingway pays attention to her, which also brings along the attentions of his wife.

Pauline’s jealousy, I could get that. Hemingway in real life treated his wives like dirt, being a lousy drunk and cheating on them–often. It’s very easy to believe Pauline wouldn’t want anything to do with a young and beautiful 20-something lady circling in her husband’s orbit. But Hemingway was also terribly charming and had a way with words, so I can totally see himself talking himself out of trouble time and time again.

I’m really not a fan of using the term “girl” to describe a 22-year old woman, but I get it. That’s how Hemingway would have classified Mariella. Hemingway comes across as a relatively good guy in Hemingway’s Girl, and the descriptions of post World War I Key West are charming. If you’re a fan of Hemingway or the Keys, you might want to check this book out.

This is the 21st audiobook I’ve listened to as part of my 2021 Audiobook Challenge.

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