Ernest Hemingway – “A Farewell To Arms”


“I loved to take her hair down and she sat on the bed and kept very still, except suddenly she would dip down to kiss me while I was doing it, and I would take out the pins and lay them on the sheet and it would be loose and I would watch her while she kept very still and then take out the last two pins and it would all come down and she would drop her head and we would both be inside of it, and it was the feeling of inside a tent or behind a falls.”

Vladimir Nabokov – “Lolita”

Vladimir_Nabokov_1973b.jpg“A normal man given a group photograph of school girls or Girl Scouts and asked to point out the comeliest one will not necessarily choose the nymphet among them. You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, with a bubble of hot poison in your loins and a super-voluptuous flame permanently aglow in your subtle spine (oh, how you have to cringe and hide!), in order to discern at once, by ineffable signs–the slightly feline outline of a cheekbone, the slenderness of a downy limb, and other indices which despair and shame and tears of tenderness forbid me to tabulate–the little deadly demon among the wholesome children; she stands unrecognized by them and unconscious herself of her fantastic power.”

William Gay – “Twilight”

twilight-author-photo-gay“Each day he swore was the last. Each night they’d be abroad with the tools in the bed of the old truck. It was a wide world with no shortage of graveyards, and he began to think of the earth as ripe and fecund with the dead, stick a spade anywhere and you’d strike a corpse. Nor was it lost upon him that they were wresting secrets from the millennia. Burial is sacred. It is secret. When the lid is sealed, it is for all time. For all time. The earth with its cargo of dead shuttles through the black dusty void while empires rise out of nothingness, others fade into the same. Days clock into night and back again and the seasons cycle their endless repetition while the dead repose with their clasped hands and their dreamless sleep and it is all the same to them.
A cold detachment had seized him. He was wrenching open the forbidden with a crowbar and each atrocity he was uncovering seemed worse than the last. An old man in a shirt and tie and a gray suitcoat and no more. He was buried a eunuch though he’d not been one in life. A woman who had been buried with these missing or other similar genitalsbetween her thighs. As if he’d alter these helpless folk to his liking. Or was yet some mad geneticist burying his mistakes and starting anew.
Some of the caskets had garbage in them. He recorded all these minutiae with a spacey disbelief. Coke bottles, candy wrappers, half an apple, old newspapers, emptied ashtrays. The ultimate garbage disposal. Someone had just swept up the trash and disposed of it forevermore.
There was a body with no coffin at all laid a foot or so beneath the earth in windings of stained bedsheet. An old woman shared her resting place with a young man who’d had his throat straightrazored, and he lay humped athwart her thighs as they lay arm in arm in eternal debauchery.
At first she had refused but now she was looking too. Cataloguing these forbidden exhibits. From a carnival freakshow wended here from the windy reaches of dementia praecox. He hadn’t known there were perversions this dark, souls this twisted.”

First Impressions of Ernest Hemingway

To put it briefly, my relationship with Hemingway has evolved from serious dislike to begrudging respect to utter obsession. My first experience of Hemingway was reading “Hills Like White Elephants” in an American literary and visual culture class (my high school had DOPE courses, guys). I enjoyed the piece immensely, probably because I’d never seen anything written like it before, but I think the assignment following the reading was so hard that it utterly destroyed my initial opinion of him. Re-writing a fairy tale in the style of Hemingway is no easy business, especially since I’m not really a creative writer. It’s also a really ambitious project when you’ve only read a single piece of his work. While “Hills Like White Elephants” is one of the best and most boiled down examples of Hemingway’s style, it wasn’t enough to make me understand who he was or how he wrote. For a long time, I blamed Hemingway himself for my mediocre performance on the assignment and I avoided reading his work for an embarrassingly long time.

Sometime in my junior year of college, I bumped into “Indian Camp”, another Hemingway short story. It was only a few pages long and I thought, fuck it, I’ll give it a shot. I had to admit that it was impressive from the start, since the simplicity of the prose worked so well with the perspective of a young boy. The moment that finally floored me was when I read, “[The Indian’s] throat had been cut from ear to ear”. Ho. Ly. Shit. I couldn’t believe the dad had killed himself, just like that. The whole story had been violent in its description of the caesarean section, but that moment took the violence to a whole new level of potency. It was the blunt description of the moment and its aftermath that intrigued me the most. In that moment, I had to begrudgingly admit that Hemingway had done something genius.

The full-on obsession phase began and ended with the 24-hour period in which I devoured A Farewell to Arms. By the last chapter, Hemingway had absolutely shattered every emotion I had and according to my concerned roommate, I was “shaking like a shitting dog” (true story). I hated myself for hating Hemingway for so long, since I let a stupid and unfair grudge get in the way of reading a great book. Looking back, though, I would imagine a lot of people dislike Hemingway when they first read him and perhaps avoid him like I once did. His subject matter is not necessarily fun and it is definitely not easy to read at first. Still, I’m relieved that I eventually grew enough as a reader to be able to appreciate Hemingway as a writer and cultural icon.