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.