I finished reading The Paris Wife recently for my prison book club. The Paris Wife is the story of Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, and her experience as his spouse while living as a member of The Lost Generation in Paris. The book was excellent: beautifully written, honest, and terribly tragic (as we all know how their relationship ends …). Because of The Paris Wife, I decided it was time to revisit Ernest Hemingway. And God help me.
I decided to pick up The Sun Also Rises, because the bull fight scenes in Pamplona were a huge part of The Paris Wife. I knew, thanks to Hadley’s first person account, that The Sun Also Rises is very true, featuring people who actually existed, who were “friends” of the Hemingway’s. I use the term “friends” loosely because honestly I’m not sure how much any of these people liked each other, which is made even more apparent in The Sun Also Rises.
A small novel, Sun took me way longer than it should have to complete. Not because the diction was difficult; obviously not—we’re talking about Hemingway, a master of using very few words to get across huge thematic points. No, Sun took me a long time to read because I was bored.
Granted, I want to give Hemingway his due. He is a genius with dialogue. He says so much by saying nothing at all. Most of the time, everything is subtext, but it’s brilliant! Brilliant! So dialogue: points! Many points. He understands human nature and is capable of creating an entire, fully realized character with nothing but his or her words. That is not easy.
Yet, I find his work to be boring. I can’t put my finger on it. I suppose, in the case of The Sun Also Rises, the repetition of “another bottle of wine” and “I’m tight” got a little old. They’re all drunk the entire book, which is why the ugliness comes out—why friends leave Pamplona as enemies.
Maybe his descriptions. I don’t like his descriptions. They’re not flowery enough for me. My favorite authors are European—Spanish mostly—and those romance language dudes know how to speak pretty. Hemingway? Not so much, which is part of his fame, part of his allure. Yet, this stagnant use of language was not alluring to me. BORED!
I have another theory: do you think Hemingway wrote for a male audience? Do you suppose, as a female, I just don’t relate? I mean, he was a Man’s Man. He was a a fighter, a drunk, a womanizer. Maybe if I had a set of balls, his work would resonate better, because as a woman, I find his female characters to be quite despicable—and maybe that’s what he intended. No matter how much he loved women in his life, he had a way of tossing them away when the next best thing came around. Perhaps he fits this philosophy into his work.
In conclusion, I gave Hemingway another shot. Did I enjoy myself? Eh. At times. There were brilliant lines: “I have a rotten habit of picturing the bedroom scenes of my friends.” Or: “I was a little drunk. Not drunk in any positive sense but just enough to be careless.” Another: “Cohn had a wonderful quality of bringing out the worst in anybody.” My God, brilliant!!
That said I won’t be going back to good old Ernest. I still have flashbacks of the horror of The Old Man and the Sea from high school, and although The Sun Also Rises was better, I’m still not interested in tackling his body of work. Thanks, Ernest, for being you and for creating a new style of American writing. However, we’re breaking up. It’s not you; it’s me.