by Ken Dortzbach
Hyper-focused, overachieving New York lawyer Callie McGraw has six months between jobs and a hefty severance check when she is called to Spain by Ernest Hemingway. She begins packing her bags for the sun-kissed streets that night. Starting in Barcelona, Callie embarks on a six-month escapade of a lifetime, a whirlwind of Spanish food, wine, art and dancing, with a revolving cast of friends and lovers keeping her company in each new locale. Callie’s next cocktail is never far away, but Hemingway knows her secrets, the demons that plague her deep down. With each mysterious call and each enigmatic clue, Hemingway challenges her to open herself to laughter, passion and love. Ultimately, he defies Callie to face her greatest fears and embrace life on her own terms.
Both the title and the cover drew me to this book. I haven’t read any Hemingway myself but his time in Europe, particularly in Spain always fascinated me. The cover screamed Spain to me, and since that’s where I am, I thought it rude to not check it out.
If I’m honest, the Hemingway “phonecall” didn’t intrigue me greatly, though having “The Sun Also Rises” as Callie’s favourite book ever worked as a plot device and was an original way to put the main character in Spain. What fascinated me more was Callie’s decision to head to Spain on a whim while she was in-between jobs. Well, who wouldn’t if they had six months and a healthy bank account?
As a long-term Hispanophile, I will always hunt down stories set in my adopted homeland. So, I felt a connection to Callie from the outset. It didn’t last. While I soaked up the details about Spain, especially the Pamplona chapters, I couldn’t muster up any fondness for Callie. To say she grated on me would be an understatement. She came across as selfish, rude, high and mighty, childish, and annoying. I felt sorry for her loyal friend, Trevor, who she teased and mocked incessantly – which, of course, she justified as allowable because she was “Callie McGraw”!!!!!! (There are not enough exclamation marks to express my reaction to her.) Poor Trevor was her plaything, until someone more to her liking came along in the form of Mr Spain Man, Claudio. I have no idea why either of these intelligent men put up with her for as long as they did.
Callie’s quest was supposedly to find Hemingway, and he contributed with additional phonecalls to steer her in the right direction. However, the story drifted into her doing a lot of nothing. An awful lot of drinking, eating …especially breakfast …and only very occasionally remembering why she had come to Spain in the first place.
It was evident early that the purpose of her trip was to really find herself. I do wonder if she liked what she found. At times, she had to listen to some cold, hard truths …did she accept her flaws? I’m not convinced she did. Granted, she did overcome her fears but I didn’t sense any real change in her come the end.
Trevor summed this story up when he gave his opinion of Callie’s treasured book, and in doing so described Callie perfectly:
“No, they really are losers.” His voiced turned cautious. “Listen, I’m not saying this to be mean but …the characters just drift around Europe, full of nothing but entitlement.”
I pumped the air at that point. Go, Trevor!
I did enjoy the setting in Spain, of course: the museums, art galleries, tapas and dances, and my heart went out the Señora Hernandez, of whom too little was seen after Callie discovered the old lady’s secret. The setting was vivid and vibrant, and full of pasión. Even the story idea was an original take on the “self-discovery” trope, but Callie rode roughshod over the story, for me anyway.
Many thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for the advanced copy in return for an honest review.