I just finished a short stoy by Joyce Carol Oates called “Papa at Ketchum, 1961.” It is the fifth story in her collection, Wild Nights!, in which she takes on the last days or major moments of five famous writer’s lives–Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James, and Hemingway. She does so in the style of each of the writers, and the text is superb.
“Papa” is meant to portray the suicide of Ernest Hemingway at his home in Ketchem, Idaho in July of 1961. It is a rambling, mad, first person narrative that is supposed to shed light on his state of mind preceding the suicide.
I’m biased, here, but I thought the story showed a lack of compassion. I feel about Hemingway the way one feels about a nasty relative–I recognize his weaknesses, but I love him, and if other people point out those weaknesses, I get defensive.
Aside from being one of the most important American writers of all time, Hemingway was a person–a troubled person. To take on his final days soaked in despair, anger, and confusion, and expose all his tremors, flaccidness, edema, and cirrhosis–the very conditions that led to the suicide in the first place–is cruel.
I will read the rest of the stories for a complete book review in the upcoming days, but for now, bad form Ms. Oates.