Ernest “Papa” Hemingway seems to hold perennial fascination for other writers, and this novel is woven around his time in Key West during the 1930s. Mariella Bennet is nineteen and dreams of having her own fishing boat, but her father’s death and her mother’s inertia in grief force her to become the family’s sole breadwinner. Also, with two younger sisters to care for, one of whom is often ill, Mariella is grateful to get a job in the Hemingway household. She soon finds herself drawn into the vortex of Papa’s charismatic sexuality and his friction with Pauline, his second wife. When the scarred veteran Gavin Murray enters the picture, Mariella’s emotions become torn, and she is faced with some difficult choices.
Mariella is an appealing heroine who demonstrates maturity and self-assurance as she deftly juggles the conflicts of love and desire and her family situation without compromising her conscience. Her dialogue with Papa is often whip-smart, and author Erika Robuck has done an excellent job of bringing this famously complex man to life: a man forced to stay “… strongly in character, forever trying to hold up his image for the men around him.” Robuck also touches on the issues of anti-Cuban feelings and the plight of veterans in the road camps as they build the Overseas Highway. Her descriptions of the 1935 Labor Day hurricane and its aftermath are almost harrowing: an event that changes the lives of all who experience it.
This is not just another analysis of Hemingway, but rather an exploration of the positive and negative effects on those living in the shadow of power as well as the shifting bonds of love and friendship. A total reading pleasure – ultimately a story about seeking and finding the best in ourselves and in others.