12-26-14 Homer-1

This is what the kids gave my husband for Christmas yesterday. If it wasn’t for Homer, we probably wouldn’t ever have family dinners.

The magazines tell me that I should aim for four meals a week around a table together, but what then? If quick-cook meal commercials were correct, we would all explode into hilarious anecdotes, smiling as we chewed our beefy-mac and talked at the same time, toasting one another with our milk glasses. My family does none of that.

I enforced a few years of diligent table dining, complete with “What was the highlight of your day?” conversation starters. No one enjoyed them. The kids pouted and just pushed at their food. My husband and I gave each other tight smiles. We ended up shoveling our plates clean – or not – and then slinking off to our respective evening entertainment.

Then, we discovered the nightly repeats of The Simpsons. With back-to-back episodes at seven AND seven-thirty, for one whole hour a day we all have a common love. Of course there are many jokes the kids miss, and many that we just talk loud over so they won’t hear enough to question. But, there are plenty of episodes that get us talking – even if it’s just about how we DON’T ACT LIKE BART. OKAY??

The laughs draw us to living room to eat, plates perched on TV trays. Sometimes, though, the show seems to have an eerie correspondence with our real lives, like an animated oracle. That’s what I wrote about in the #6 most-viewed post of 2014.


originally published February 15, 2014


Rather than joining the throngs of happy, loving couples eating out on Valentine’s Day, my husband and I celebrated with some quick pasta for the whole family at home. We all sat on the couch and ate on trays in front of the television as we watched the nightly Simpson’s syndication on Seattle’s JOE TV.

It was the episode, “The Daughter Also Rises”. Whoever programs the reruns must be monitoring my reading habits.

Early in the show, Lisa spies a boy at the next table through a crack in a restaurant booth. He’s reading “A Farewell to Arms”.

My husband turned to me and said, “Hey, just like your book!”

I’ve been reading “The Paris Wife”, by Paula McLain. It tells the story of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, and their life together in France during the early 1920’s.

I am not a fan of Hemingway. In his work I’m most likely to identify with the people he hates. As a woman, I feel like I’m not really invited into his world.

A new friend recommended the novel, though. I only agreed to borrow it if she promised that Hemingway didn’t get a whitewash. “‘Cause I think he’s a jerk, okay?” I surprised myself by how emphatic I was, but she said she didn’t like him either and that’s why she wanted me to read it, so she could talk trash about him with someone else. I started reading it a week ago.

In The Simpsons episode, Lisa meets the boy from the booth next door at the dessert buffet. She learns his name is Nick. He quotes Hemingway, Lisa swoons.

Due to my aforementioned distaste of Hemingway, I don’t know that much about him. But, I felt a little smug at this point in the show because I read in “The Paris Wife” that “Nick Adams” was the main character of many of his short stories about his early life.

Despite my aforementioned distaste of Hemingway, I did get drawn into the novel about his marriage. There’s a scene in “The Paris Wife” soon after they get married. Ernest reveals to Hadley that he has to sleep with the light on, his World War I flashbacks overwhelm him in the dark.

Hadley recognizes his pain. Her father committed suicide when she was a girl. Hadley stays up all night in a chair by the bed, watching over Ernest like he was a newborn. At that point, my heart opened up for them, two lovers bound together by tragedy.

Once the newlyweds move to Paris, though, I struggled to lose myself in their romance. Living off Hadley’s small trust fund, they rent an apartment with communal piss pots on every stair landing. They only escape the squalor of their neighborhood by going to lunches with extravagantly wealthy friends. Ernest refuses any charity from the rich, but he doesn’t resent having Hadley completely pay his way.

She and Ernest drink to oblivion on most nights. She has little interest in creative work of her own, she dedicates herself to supporting her husband’s dream.

Ernest spends his days writing in seclusion and Hadley keeps house and shops by  herself. One day, she walks a block away from the dazzling market vendors to find an alley full of rotten meat and garbage and refuse from the week’s unsold goods.

I laughed out loud at the Simpson’s episode, then, when Lisa joins her new beau at  “Le Petite Appétit”. She holds up her hands to block out the vision of Barney puking in the dumpster and Gil bathing in the fountain so she only sees a fantasy of Parisian cafe life with Nick.

I said, “That’s what Hadley had to do! Wait a minute. Holy crap. Did the writers also read “The Paris Wife”?” I checked the broadcast date of the show and cross-referenced it to the release of the book. The show aired early in 2012, the book was first released in 2011. It was possible, and I hoped the writers had read the novel because I was having trouble finishing it.

The deeper the novel goes into the Hemingways’ marriage, the harder it was for me to imagine myself in the world. It’s written in Hadley’s voice and I felt trapped in her sad, outsider view. I kept waiting to see her “as wife and as one’s own woman”, like Entertainment Weekly promised in their front page blurb. It never came.

When Hadley accidentally loses the suitcase that holds all of Ernest’s writing, every last sheet of it, I shut the book. I had to go online to make sure the novelist didn’t make it up. She did not.

In real life, Hadley packed a bag with all of his work, including copies and notes, and it got stolen. Ernest gets mad when she tells him, but not nearly as mad as when she tells him she’s pregnant.

Hadley says in the book that she loves Ernest and is happy just to know he couldn’t do his work without her. I don’t love Hemingway and I was unhappy to suffer any of his terrible personality, even through historical fiction. By the time his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, shows up on the scene, a mistress posing as Hadley’s friend, I was ready to leave the whole love triangle between closed covers.

Even the prospect of trash talking Hemingway couldn’t get me through the rest of the book. I still had eighty pages to go in “The Paris Wife” on Valentine’s Day, when we happened upon the re-broadcast of “The Daughter Also Rises”.

In the final scene, Lisa takes off for a romantic rendezvous with Nick, but things go awry. Grandpa Simpson gets pulled over as he drives them to the beach, Nick pushes Lisa until she says “Ow!”, Nick lets a branch smack her in the face as they run through the underbrush, he offers little help rowing the boat to their romantic island destination and he complains of the cold. As they are just about to kiss, Hadley Richardson shows up in Lisa’s imagination.

Hadley advises Lisa against falling for Nick. Then, Pauline appears in the bubble and agrees that “Tortured writers make lousy husbands.”

I whooped out loud, “What are the chances!? JOE TV ran this episode based on the novel I’m pointedly *not* reading right now!” It felt enough like serendipity to inspire me to read the rest of the book. It had to be good if the Simpsons skewered it.

Before I read the last section, I checked online for any reviews of the episode. I wanted to see how someone else interpreted the satire of the book. Surprisingly, no one mentioned it.

The fan reviews of the episode are negative. I agree it’s a pretty shaggy plot. In fact, I remember seeing it the first time it came out and thinking that I could probably give up my appointment watching of the show. But, I wasn’t reading “The Paris Wife” at the time.

I Googled every which way, but I could only find one single reader comment that even mentioned a connection. In all the Internet, just this:

  •  I’m kind of surprised there is no mention of “The Paris Wife,” as this episode is clearly a parody of the book (which was based on the real-life experiences of Hemingway and his first wife).

frey78, you’re not alone.

I stayed up late and read the novel through to the end. It was disappointing.

According to the novel, Hadley never stops loving Ernest. She accepts another man, but when she hears of his suicide decades later, she wistfully returns to romantic memories of their time in France. I only remembered the pissoirs, snobbery, and alcoholism.

As I crawled into bed with my husband, he asked, “Well? What’d you get out of the book?” I thought for a long time, looking for the most spare and true way to relate my reaction and came up with, “Meh.” My expectations for books are probably too high.

I woke up this morning with a bad attitude about reading “The Paris Wife”. I felt suckered into spending those hours giving Hemingway’s persona even more validation. I was pissed that I felt compassion for him when he was young and fragile. It hurt me that Hadley never developed her own creative voice. Worst of all, the writer stayed very close to actual events, so I knew it was all really that sad. What’s the use of historical fiction if you don’t rewrite the worst parts?

That’s when I sought refuge in The Simpsons. We actually bought the episode on Amazon to examine it for any hope.

The episode we saw is called, “The Daughter Also Rises”, but the main plot is about Bart and Milhouse cracking school myths in a parody of “MythBusters”. After they dispel everything, including the classic dead girl  in the bathroom mirror, Dolf, the bully, says, “So school is just everything we see?” All the kids walk away morose, very similar to my feeling when I finished the novel.

Bart realizes he has to do something. “I can’t be the one who killed everyone’s fun!”

Milhouse and Groundskeeper WereWillie restore the magical fantasy for Springfield Elementary.

For me, the idea of busting myths made sense of “The Paris Wife”. The author, Paula McLain, pops the illusion of Hemingway the “Champ”. His feats of masculinity come across as desperate acts of self-making, funded by wealthy wives and fueled by the kind of smoke and mirrors publicity that was easier before the days of the World Wide Web.

At the end of “The Daughter Also Rises”, Marge braves water walkers to save Lisa from falling for Nick. Once she gets there, Lisa is just fine. She knows how to take care of herself.

Lisa does get a kiss from a true love, her mother. It’s not romantic, of course, but the whole episode starts with Marge sending Homer off with Bart so she can spend Valentine’s with Lisa.

Nurturing, functional, family love, not really the stuff of great literature, possibly a myth as well, is the prize of the episode. It’s what gave Lisa the self-confidence to see past romantic illusions. It’s what both Hadley and Ernest were missing, and what they couldn’t build together.

While I never fell for Hemingway the writer, I have succumbed to romantic illusions and men who were mostly myth. The dream of a dazzling lifestyle as a celebrated artist has also afflicted me, making me feel like my current situation is as bland as Hadley. But now, I have a different perspective on the gift of spending Valentine’s Day dinner eating on the couch with my husband and children.


File this under ‘blog post talking about a cartoon that’s a satire of a novel that’s a historical fiction account of a famous novelist writing about something that actually happened to him because he wanted to be a famous writer who everyone talked about’.

You win this round, Hemingway.