The collection is one that the publisher Simon and Schuster gleaned from his published short stories, the first being the title short story. I read the first three stories and plan to read the rest a bit at a time over time. What surprised me what how the stories pulled me in. The action was not intense, but the characters and their dilemmas captured me. Time and storyline took a backseat to the perspective of the characters. I had forgotten, what with my current interest in more popular fiction, especially whodunits, that one can just enter the world of fiction and live for a time with the characters, just hang out in their reality. Reading Hemingway, I found his simple, straightforward phrasing again pulled me into his reality, his human, imperfect world.
I was pleased to remember again the experience of reading "literature," that is, fiction that is not written primarily to entertain or thrill (although it must, to an acceptable degree, do both) but more to open the world to the reader, to unify the outer and inner worlds. The best writing opens the world, widens it, places us, the readers, in that larger world--expands us. Hemingway's stories, these gems, did this. I was reminded of my humanity--the stories didn't allow me to escape but rather to remember. The main purpose of the stories was to open the reader to that moment of epiphany, when we for a moment touch the greater realities of existence.
However, there was also that "Oh, yeah" moment I remembered about Hemingway. I suppose most reading this will know about his depression, his alcohol, his suicide. Each of the three stories in this collection are all associated with death. I was reminded that "beauty" is not the same as "pretty." These stories are beautifully crafted; they move us, increase us. They are not pretty, though. The uplift we experience is from the art of the story, not the content, which is dark. I had forgotten and then remembered while reading the heaviness of Hemingway's vision, Hemingway's stoicism in the face of suffering, mostly self-imposed. Reading Hemingway is like taking a bitter tonic. It may be good for you, but only in small, occasional doses.
That's why I returned the book to the library. I'll check it out again, read a few stories over the next month, renew it, and then probably finish the stories. It's like that old movie cliché where the hysterical character gets his face slapped and then says, "Thanks, I needed that." Or perhaps it's a glass of cold water tossed in your face (the water, not the glass). An artful rendering of our mortality can remind us to live life more fully, to appreciate each moment, but too much can overwhelm. That's why I'll be reading this collection of short stories a few at a time. "Ah, yes, I remember," I'll say to myself, uplifted by Hemingway's mastery of his craft, and then I'll walk outside and stand in the sun, the light warm against my face.
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