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Fictionalization of Hemingway's early years fetches huge advance

By Matthew Shaer / June 19, 2009



Just north of half a million dollars.

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That's the "staggering" sum that a new novel about Ernest Hemingway fetched from Random House, the New York Observer reported on Wednesday. If you follow the publishing industry at all, you probably know that sales numbers and advances – the amount awarded to an author before he or she publishes a book – have plummeted over the past few years. So the news that Paula McLain has won such a large sum is resonating loudly throughout the literary world.

According to the Observer's Leon Neyfakh, the book is pegged to "the five-year period after World War I during which [Hadley] Richardson and Hemingway, who was in his 20s, were married and living as expats in Paris alongside Lost Generation writers like Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Sherwood Anderson." The book, titled "The Great Good Place," is narrated by Richardson, who was Hemingway's first wife.

"To see the Hemingway character from this point of view, it's just priceless," Random House executive editor Susanna Porter told the Observer. "He's vulnerable and he's insecure because his writing career is not off the ground yet. He keeps turning to Hadley and saying, 'Am I going to do this? Am I going to be great?' And she's really gotta be a cheerleader for him. He shows her his writing and if she says anything at all about it that's negative... he immediately says, 'Oh, you don't support me, you don't love me.'"

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