I really should have known. I don't usually appreciate these speculative fictionalized biographies. Part of it, admittedly, is my anal resistance to the whole maybe-maybe not thing about whether these people actually said this or were like that. But another piece of it is that the balance between an author's trying to be true to the story and imagining richly developed characters is a delicate one that is rarely achieved. I appreciate both McLain's research and her stated intention to give young Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, emotional substance. Unfortunately, I think the latter suffered at the expense of the former. Perhaps it was because of her attention to detail and her desire for authenticity that I never experienced Ernest or Hadley as flesh-and-blood characters with whom I could empathize.
I always thought of Ernest Hemingway as kind of a jerk (my love for The Old Man and the Sea
notwithstanding) and was a bit curious to see how that played out with Hadley and others. Here, though, he simply seemed like nothing more than a bland, loving husband until one day he wasn't. Jerky behaviors with his friends had a similarly superficial feeling. As for Hadley, although she expressed passion for Ernest I never actually felt it. It kind of seemed like she was going through the motions. The famous contemporaries who made appearances also didn't have a lot of personality; it started to feel like name-dropping after a while as Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and others kind of came and went without a lot of action. The plot was slow as well, which I might have forgiven had I been more interested in the characters.
I wish I had liked it better, in part because I'm starting to worry about my curmudgeonly tendencies. It did inspire me to read more Hemingway, so it gets some points for that.