For 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.
Day 36, Hemingway’s Girl, by Erika Robuck
If the world was a just place, the men who endured trenches, biological warfare, and the other horrors of the World War I would have returned home to prosperity and respect. Instead, a little over a decade after the Great War ended, the Great Depression began. In 1935, a group of veterans were sent on a work program to build an Overseas Highway to Key West to mainland Florida. Living in Key West while the veterans worked on the highway was famed author Ernest Hemingway. This novel brings together two contrasting men—a reliable veteran named Gavin and the volatile Hemingway—and one woman named Mariella Bennett. Half American and half Cuban, Mariella lives a sketchy life and only by chance does she meet both Gavin and Hemingway. Mariella bets her wages on local boxing matches, and it is this foolish but fateful habit that brings her to the attention of these two very different men.
Her friendship with Hemingway eventually leads Mariella to a job. She is hired as a maid by Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline, and their life full of parties and celebrities is far removed from her own hardscrabble youth. While it is a glamorous life, it is not a peaceful one; Mariella discovers through continuing friendship with Gavin that he may not be rich or famous, but he’s a strong and honorable man. Her passions and what she wants wavers between the two men who want her, but an outside force bigger than any romantic or social conflict is bearing down on Florida. On Memorial Day weekend in 1935, with little warning or preparation, a massive hurricane approaches, aimed straight for the Overseas Highway and the veterans hired to build it.
Why is Hemingway’s Girl a good read for women? Erika Robuck vividly describes a place of wealth and poverty, an exotic set of islands always at the mercy of weather, and so provides a compelling look at Depression Era life at two extremes of society. The trio of primary characters are passionate, imperfect, and complex. This is a story about fate and choices and helplessness, about larger than life figures who are adored, and heroic ones who are forgotten. Like Key West, Mariella and the two men in her life share a connection to one another– and to the world—that is tenuous and vulnerable.