Wednesday, November 9, 2016

VILLA AMERICA by Liza Klaussmann

Sara and Gerald Murphy are Americans who really did exist.  They expatriated to the French Riviera in the 1920s, raised their three children there, and hobnobbed with a host of well-known artists and writers, such as Picasso, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Archibald MacLeish.  Gerald himself had a brief career as an artist, but basically the Murphys were known for their house parties.  They seemed to have a stable relationship, unlike Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald or Ernest and Hadley Hemingway.  However, Gerald was a closet homosexual, although in this book some of his friends utter innuendos that suggest his secret was not so secret.  Also, the author has invented a love interest for Gerald in the book—Owen Campbell, a pilot who exists well outside the Murphys’ well-heeled circle of friends, until they start drawing him in.  For me, this book treaded in all-too-familiar territory.  I liked The Paris Wife better, and this just seemed like more of the same but with more pleasant main characters.  Often the flaws are what make book characters compelling.  Here, Gerald and Sara come off as an island of sanity in the middle of an ocean of obnoxious but talented people.  Their idyllic life can’t last forever, though, and not just because the Depression is wiping out their prodigious funds.  Still, it’s the larger than life images of Hemingway and Fitzgerald that create the most memorable scenes in the book, such as the running of the bulls in Pamplona and a wine glass tantrum.

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