My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (1987) by Ernest Hemingway is a journey through one man’s life and one writer’s career. Granted most of the stories are not exceptional, many stories belonging to the time before Hemingway would become an international success, and long after that appeal had died away.
I first read this collection ten years ago, in my early twenties, and now in my early thirties I find this book is just as rewarding as the first time I read it. It is the movement of the emotions ebbing through each story that captivates me, watching a man and writer unfold before my eyes, and by the book’s end one wonders at the talent of Ernest Hemingway.
”The End of Something” is one of those Nick Adams stories that takes place in Michigan and makes a vivid impression on my mind of what a young Hemingway would have been like.
Nick in the story is conflicted about his feelings for a young girl named Marjorie as they lie on a blanket beneath the stars. At the end of the story, the reader gets a bit of what will one day make Hemingway a legend, that emotional angst so easily described that the feelings churn inside the heart of the reader.
Hemingway writes, ”He was afraid to look at Marjorie. Then he looked at her. She sat there with her back toward him. He looked at her back. ‘It isn’t fun any more. Not any of it.’ She didn’t say anything. He went on. ‘I feel as though everything was gone to hell inside of me. I don’t know, Marge. I don’t know what to say.’ He looked on at her back. ‘Isn’t love any fun?’ Marjorie said. ‘No,’ Nick said” (p 81). And there he is.
”A Way You’ll Never Be,” is one of those stories that draws the reader into a world that haunts him long after the book has been closed. This is another Nick Adams story, but it is fairly safe to say that Nick is a representation of Hemingway, and here Nick is caught in a war as he is demonstrating the American uniform for the Italian army.
As Nick tries to speak of grasshoppers an Italian soldier keeps focusing on why Nick is even at the war and the underlining tension eventually drives Nick out of the battalion. The story is fairly simple, but it is the essence lying beneath the surface, which one can see Hemingway flirting with his ice-berg theory here, is what compels the story forward.
In ”Fathers and Sons” Hemingway writes of the loss of his father. Nick in the story is caught in the past with the death of his father (which would haunt Hemingway until his own suicide at the age of 62 [eerily portrayed in detail in the novel To Have and Have Not]) as Nick is out hunting, later making love to Trudy, a young girl from the nearby Indian camp. Nick recalls his father at the undertaker’s:
”There was nothing to do about his father, and he had thought it all through many times. The handsome job the undertaker had done on his father’s face had not blurred in his mind and all the rest of it was quite clear, including the responsibilities. He had complimented the undertaker. The undertaker had been both proud and smugly pleased. But it was not the undertaker that had given him that last face. The undertaker had only made certain dashingly executed repairs of doubtful artistic merit. The face had been making itself and being made for a long time. It had modelled fast in the last three years. It was a good story but there were still too many people alive for him to write it” (p 371).
Yes. Often writers have stories inside themselves that are too fresh and raw and too many people are alive to be exposing such wounds. And to read of these thoughts by a young Hemingway is to dive deeper into his thoughts and soul.
The last story I would like to comment on is the very last story in the collection and it is called, ”The Strange Country,” which was originally written as four chapters that were to be in a novel Hemingway was working on and illustrate much of the work published in 1970 in a book called Islands in the Stream.
What is interesting is the fact that Hemingway, or the main character at least, tells of when he was in his early twenties and he had lost all of his writing materials. Roger, the main character in the story, tells to a young lover of how he had been at the Lausanne Conference in Switzerland (which was very important in establishing modern day Turkey), and his wife at the time packs all of his writing material, which included a novel, poems and several stories, takes a train and at a stop she steps off the train to buy some Evian water and when she returns to her seat the suitcase is gone.
What is interesting to note is the similarity of this story with the recent movie, The Words, which tells of a young writer who also lost his stories in the exact same manner at roughly the same point in history but in the movie another writer far in the future stumbles upon the novel and publishes the story as his own.
I recommend taking the journey through Hemingway’s complete collection of short stories because one never knows what one may find when exploring the depths of another man’s character and memories and stories. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection after waking from a nap in the afternoon and lying in bed discovering worlds long dead but ever living in the hearts and minds of modern men and women.