Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck (pub date 9/4/12)
“She remembered when Hemingway had planted a banyan tree at his house and told her its parasitic roots were like human desire. At the time she’d thought it romantic. She hadn’t understood his warning.”
Ernest Hemingway was a legend. Known for his tempestuous nature and tragic suicide, his books are still considered to be American classics. In this debut novel, author Erika Robuck takes her love of Hemingway and builds a story around it.
Hemingway’s Girl is set in 1935, during the height of the Great Depression. Nineteen-year-old Mariella is one of the many impoverished residents of Key West struggling to survive. Since her father’s death, Mariella works odd jobs to support her mother and two younger sisters. In a desperate attempt to raise funds for her family’s rent, Mariella makes a bet at a local boxing match, where she encounters none other than local celebrity Ernest Hemingway.
Mariella is later hired to be a maid in Hemingway’s home, and becomes entranced by his bold personality and charming flirtations. She begins to wonder if her feelings for him are real, knowing she doesn’t want to become the kind of woman who would have a relationship with a married man. At the same time, Mariella has a second love interest, a World War I veteran named Gavin who is one of the hundreds of vets working on the overseas highway project in the Florida Keys.
I picked up this book at the BEA Bloggers Conference, and I was so excited to read it. But while I found it interesting enough, it just didn’t blow me away. Mariella’s relationship with Hemingway is the most interesting part of the story. He calls her “daughter;” she calls him “Papa.” They share a special kinship that transcends mere sexual attraction. Unfortunately, that relationship is pushed aside when Gavin is introduced, giving way to the much-abused love triangle plot device. Even Mariella’s romance with Gavin seemed stilted to me. There was so much talk about human desire in this book, and I didn’t feel too much of it.
As a character, I found Mariella to be a little under developed. She embodies the “poor girl with a heart of gold” archetype, and not much else. I expected her story to be grittier, I wanted there to be more risk involved in her actions. Clearly, Hemingway was the most interesting character, even though it was supposed to be Mariella’s story.
The setting and time period were fascinating, and Robuck obviously made a great effort to research Hemingway’s life. But the story didn’t do too much for me. Still, Hemingway’s Girl is a decent effort by a debut author, and makes for a good beach read. Read it for yourself and tell me what you think!