I love this picture of Ernest Hemingway that was taken by his wife, Mary, in 1959 in Spain, three years before the end of his life. It’s interesting how a death–particularly a death by suicide–colors all of the days that came before it. It casts a shadow over every life event–whether it should or not–and gives significance to things that may or may not have deserved notice.
I just finished The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: Finca Vigia Edition. As I read it, I found myself thinking of his life and his end often, and looked at every story, backward, through that. It bothered me. It would have been better not to know his end so I could have just enjoyed the ride.
My favorite story in the book was The Strange Country–a novel that Hemingway began but never finished. Like most Hemingway stories, it was thinly veiled autobiography. It portrayed the beginning of his relationship with Martha Gellhorn as the cracks started to surface. It was a fascinating sketch of a doomed relationship.
What’s great about all of the stories is that each follows Hemingway’s “Iceberg Principle.” In chapter 16 of Death in the Afternoon he writes, “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The diginty of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.” It requires a great deal of trust in the reader for the writer to apply “the iceberg principle,” but it’s necessary if the writer wants to produce great fiction.
Anyway, this is not a book I would recommend widely. It’s sexist of me to say that men would enjoy it more than women (lots of war, fighting, hunting, and drinking), but I think that’s the case. There are glimmers of obvious brilliance (The Snows of Kilimanjaro, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, A Clean, Well-Lighted Place). There are dark, disturbing stories (Up in Michigan, God Rest You Merry, Gentleman). But the overall tone of pessimism in the stories is a burden to the reader.
I’m glad I read it, but I don’t suggest going out to buy it.