Thoughts on Ernest Hemingway

To Have and Have Not – Ernest Hemingway

This turned out to be one of my favorites of Hemingway. I loved the crisp dialogue and fast pacing. They reminded me of some of Denis Johnson’s best work. To Have and Have Not was famously cut down from a much longer manuscript, which accounts for its disjointed nature. It’s an imperfect book, but to me this adds to its charm. Henry Morgan isn’t a particularly likable main character; the book switches from first to third person throughout; there are flashes of interiority that don’t seem to fit with the rest of the rather cool, hard-boiled narrative; the female characters are laughably one-dimensional; and what was the point exactly of Richard Gordon’s storyline? In short, this book is a mess, a sharply written, beautiful mess.

The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

I’m conflicted about this book. I recently enjoyed Mary Dearborn’s new biography of Hemingway, which inspired me to (re)read some of his work. That enthusiasm, I think, carried over into the first pages of The Sun Also Rises. The writing was crisp and evocative, and the short chapters just flew by. But halfway through, my interest began to wane. The characters were kind of bland; I didn’t understand their constant animosity toward the Robert Cohn character; and their drunken ramblings seemed more important to them than they were to me. Also, the chapters suddenly got longer, which made the whole book slow to a crawl. But! Hemingway’s descriptions of Spain and France also grew longer and more detailed, putting me in mind of my favorite book of his, A Moveable Feast. At times, I was right there with him, sitting at this cafe or that, getting tight (an old term for “drunk”) on Martinis and rioja alta.