Sunday, April 30, 2017
The art of being terse
I don't really find Hemingway interesting to read but I understand why it's worthwhile to read Hemingway.
His books are largely written on subjects I either find dull or depressing, there's usually at least one woman being treated like utter shit by the protagonist AND the author in each one, and they seem to drag on forever.
But his short fiction avoids a lot of those issues by a) being fucking short, b) not including as many women to be shat on, c) having something small as the core of each story that gets explored briefly instead of having a huge concept that gets sliced into innumerable infuriating pieces as a novel.
The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories is mostly comprised of stories in the 15-25 page range that are basically okay. That's enough room to have some of the stuff that I hate about Hemingway (shitting on women, droning about the awful but gloriously masculine art of war) but not enough space to get totally wrapped up in those things. The collection has two stories that brood about African hunting excursions and two stories about the awful mess and horror of war. There's a pretty decent piece about a contract killer and a very confusing story about a gambler. There's somewhat disgusting piece about how one generation relates to the next.
And in the collection are two tiny gems, the shortest stories in the book, both of which are brilliant. One is "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," a short story that I think has probably ended up on hundreds if not thousands of "essential reading" lists - with good reason, it's a wonderful story. The other bit that stuck out to me, and the only reason I'm going to keep this book, is a story called "A Day's Wait," which is a minuscule story, a super-short, probably under a thousand words that immediately follows "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" in my edition. Somewhat frustrating, that. The best seven pages of a 154 page book are all clumped together and make everything else seem like a slog in comparison.
Hemingway really shone in tiny little pieces. His longer works drag and become wrapped up in self admiration and self loathing but he doesn't allow himself that luxury in the shorter pieces. There's no room for authorial drama or convoluted examinations of masculinity in two pages - you get a single image that you can tease out the meaning of and play with, you get one concept to work with, you explore it, then you're out. An old waiter and a young waiter discuss an old drunk and their attitudes reflect their status. A father cares for but does not understand the troubles of his sick young son. Wham, bam, thank you Ma'am.
And you get all that beautiful, short, clean prose with simple, lovely sentences without having to listen to Hemingway ponder what cruel bitches American women are or how bulls and ar are important to the Spanish psyche.
Best of both worlds.
Anyway, if you'd like to read this collection you can find it here.