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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

My Love/Hate Affair with Ernest Hemingway.

Well, hate is a bit strong. More like disappointment. I first read Hemingway as many young folks do in college. Not for assignment. And here was prose that was direct, fresh, sincere, and connected with me. So you want to write you start to imitate. Not a bad thing to do. You learn how sentence rhythms can be created. The Southern writer Reynolds Price (A Long and Happy Life; The Names and Faces of Heroes) was a visiting lecturer and as part of being in the creative writing course we were given a one-on-one with him. I didn't have much to show, just some prose poems, which he pronounced were "lovely."

One began: "The snows came in March and it was unfair because that same morning there had been the smell of spring in the air." Yep, that's pretty Hemingwayesque. But it's not a bad way to begin to find one's own writing voice. I digress.

Hemingway became a caricature of himself. And then his later prose became a caricature of his early prose. His late work Across the River and Into the Trees, deserved the ridicule it received through E.B. White's satire "Across the Street and Into the Grill" in The New Yorker.

You read Across the River today and groan: "I could learn it really well, he thought, and then I'd have that." Oh, Lord, please. And "Keep it clean, he said to himself. And love your girl." Jezz, really?

And yet. And yet. On one of the most emotional evenings of my life I turned to that book for a kind of solace. I had learned my father had died of a heart attack and the next day I would drive to Hutchinson. I reread Across the River and underlined passages. Today, almost 50 years later, I still have that book in my library.

Until the other day, the last Hemingway novel I had read was Islands in the Stream, published posthumously. I thought it pretty awful. Didn't connect at all. So when I read about another novel to be published posthumously I didn't bother, which was quite some time ago: 1986.

Wandering through an estate sale I came across The Garden of Eden, by Ernest Hemingway and it caught my eye because I was unfamiliar with that title. Looking through it, I realized it was the posthumous publication, so I bought it.


I'm just one chapter into it, but it was like meeting up again with an old friend. Here was early Hemingway prose: fresh, sincere, and it connected with me. I don't know how the rest of the book will go, but it's been a great joy so far to reconnect with my younger self and Ernest Hemingway in this odd way.