Kelly Strom | Author has flair for kind-of-true stories

Kelly Strom | Author has flair for kind-of-true stories

Have you heard the news? New York Times bestselling author Paula McLain is coming to the Champaign Public Library this week as part of the fantastic Great Authors series.

Well known in the literary world for her books "The Paris Wife" and "Circling the Sun," the author seems to have a liking for biographical fiction. A regular addition to book clubs across the country, these two titles are joined by a new one this year, "Love and Ruin."

In "The Paris Wife," the reader comes to know vivacious auburn-haired Hadley Richardson, a woman visiting friends in Chicago in the 1920s. At one particular party, she meets a charming young writer, Ernest Hemingway.

He is immediately smitten, and the two become inseparable. Told by other young writers that post-war Paris was the place to be, the two quickly embarked and led a life of excess with the likes of other luminaries: Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Sherwood Anderson and Gertrude Stein.

McLain's portrayal of Hemingway, a native of Oak Park, Ill., is a different one than usually described by his contemporaries. Hadley finds him brusque, but endearing. At times vivacious, yet self-destructive. A strong woman herself, she's able to keep up with his adventures, until it all becomes too much.

In "Circling the Sun," the author presents another fictional piece based on a historical figure.

Beryl Markham was a fascinating woman who was born in England, but moved with her family to Kenya at age 4. Living on a horse-racing farm, she learned equine training at an early age and was established as a trainer in the community by age 17.

Beautiful and full of life, Beryl was married three times and had numerous affairs.

After learning to fly a plane, she was the first solo woman who successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean from England to North America.

Returning to her beloved Kenya, she befriended many members of the Happy Valley set, a group of young hedonistic British socialites who led a decadent lifestyle there in the 1920s and 30s.

"Circling the Sun" narrows in on the life of Markham, who wrote her own story of her experiences in "West With the Night," a book favored by Hemingway.

In her latest, McLain revisits Ernest Hemingway again in "Love and Ruin," the story of real-life war correspondent Martha Gelhorn.

After meeting at a party in Key West, Fla., in 1936, Gelhorn travels with Hemingway to Spain to cover the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War and reports on the effects that it has on the local people.

After falling in love, these two fierce personalities marry (Hemingway's third), and their literary pursuits become somewhat competitive.

Immensely talented and strong-willed, Gelhorn goes on to become one of the leading journalists of her time.

If these kinda-true stories intrigue you, you may want to check out McLain's story of her own life in "Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses, a Memoir."

Born in the mid-'60s, Paula and her two sisters become wards of the state in California, after both of her parents abandon them. Raised in Fresno County, the three curly-haired brunettes first stay with their grandmother, then are bounced from one foster home to another.

McLain's somewhat detached recollections of her circumstances are both fascinating and depressing.

Fortunate to at least stay together, the sisters are forced to adapt to the rules and idiosyncrasies of each foster home, until confusingly being taken from one place and put in another.

They land at what they consider an ideal place at one point with a young couple they adore, only to be told that they have to leave because the couple is relocating out of the county.

Later on, Paula discovers that the couple never moved. No explanations are given upon each move, and eventually they stay with one family until adulthood.

The last home where the girls stay is owned by a playful man always inventing new projects, his strict and mistrustful German wife and their spoiled daughter. At the surface, this placement seems ideal, as the girls learn to ride horses, take part in important chores, visit "family" and complete school.

There is, however, and underlying menace that is not fully described, that was strong enough that the author never returned to the homestead after setting out on her own.

The final pages of the memoir ruminate on the sisters' relationships with their mother.

As a new adult, McLain took on a variety of jobs, before landing at the University of Michigan and receiving her MFA in poetry.

Throughout the book, McLain touches on the horrors of the homes where she stayed — disengaged adults, sexual abuse, financial gains, harassment, but never delves too deeply.

It is sufficient to know that Paula made it out, is stronger because of her misfortune and uses the experiences gained with sensitivity in writing about other people's lives.

Her books are available in a variety of formats. Check them out and join us for an evening with her starting at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Kelly Strom is the collection manager at the Champaign Public Library. She orders books, ebooks, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and CDs.

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