A new book dives deeper into Hemingway’s life
In the middle to late 1800s, Lincoln, Grant, and Twain began removing fat from American prose. It’s interesting to compare their lean written sentences with the bloated ones of their contemporaries.
Along came Ernest Hemingway in the 1920s and finished the job. His cleanly written deep stories stunned some young readers into wanting to become writers. I chanced upon A Farewell to Arms when I was nineteen and finished the last page hungry to teach and write fiction. Hemingway’s descriptions of objects and movements of people and animals were, to me, often more than dead-on—some sentences and paragraphs seemed to me not so much understood as felt.
Hemingway’s Boat (Knopf), by Paul Hendrickson, coming on the fiftieth anniversary of the writer’s infamous death in 1961, is not a biography. Rather, Hendrickson’s complex but clear and easy-to-follow narrative revolves around one of Hemingway’s loves, his fishing boat, Pilar. Hemingway bought the sturdy vessel in 1934 at the height of his artistic powers. He was thirty-four. For the rest of his life he often fished from it, ate on it, and slept on it, near his homes in Key West and then Cuba.
By focusing on Hemingway’s relationship to his boat—and to the people who spent time on it (wives, sons, friends, lovers, mates, writers, publishers, etc.)—Hendrickson throws fresh light on his passions, faults, loves, art, and inner life. He gives us several previously untold “shadow stories,” mini-biographies of two of Hemingway’s friends and his son Gregory.