The Impotence of Reading Ernest

I’m starting a run through Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”. Boy, I’m really late to this particular party – reading Hemingway, that is. In fact, I’m probably more interested in the man than his art, but they’re intimately connected, so I think I won’t learn something about one without learning something about the other.

I’ll be first to admit that I’m an amateur, quibbling, scribbling hack as a writer. I’ve hardly written very much at all, and I’ve rarely had anything published by others (just some comic book reviews). I wrote some short stories that you can read here, and, back in 2009, self-pubbed a novella, mainly to see if I could do it – from the story to cover design to limited online marketing. Overall, creatively, I’ve enjoyed hiding inside of the familiar warmth of my main character and avatar, Jack Owen. I wonder if other fiction writers feel that way. I wouldn’t know, because i don’t know any.

Through my first major novel project, I brute forced my way into learning a new art form, but I think I still understand the medium in only the most superficial sense. I have no real underlying knowledge of literature, and I tend to write in a “workman-like” way, as Ian Fleming once described his own style. I tend to read the occasional fiction and, like my taste in music, I tend to stick with a small number of artists whose voices resonate with me the most. As a teen, Ian Fleming and John LeCarre introduced me to spy thrillers and cold war intrigue, and later Chandler and Hammett gave me a taste for setting, vernacular, and the cold lives of lonely gumshoes. In fact, movies triggered my interest in all of these authors.

But reading Steinbeck changed many things for me: in high school, his brief but beautiful “Of Mice and Men” struck me powerfully, and only five or six years ago, his epic “The Grapes of Wrath” floored me and reduced me to tears with its powerful, universal themes. But, like Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway never was one of the voices I bothered to seek out – until now.

A recent, brief email discussion with a friend made me realize how little I knew about Papa. My friend is well-read and well-educated in literature, and I am, decidedly, embarrassingly, not. So, for some internal reason that I still don’t understand, her brief and pointed descriptions of Hem’s background and influences struck me like a kind of personal challenge. I decided to start reading Hem and to study his background. Something in him started to scratch at the inside of my skull…

As a kid, I absorbed references to Hemingway in pop culture (an episode of M*A*S*H, with an overly-adventurous journalist who caused damage and drama while trying to recapture his past glory), and in the stories my father used to tell about himself, or which were sometimes told about him by others. So, it’s come to pass in my head that I may explore some tenuous mental associations: “Ernest” is my first name (after my maternal grandfather), and the persona of “Papa” resonates into some of the self-aggrandizing stories that my Dad used to tell about himself.

As my post title might imply, there may also be issues of “maleness”, sincerity, and the loss of power which I could explore through absorbing Hem’s fiction, and in comparing or relating it to the males who’ve been the biggest influences in my life, primarily my Dad. As a boy, I loved and feared my Dad, as a young adult, I loved and pitied him, and in my middle age, I truly began to resent and even despise him.

What an emotional pendulum, going back and forth from sunny idealism to cold realism! Perhaps it’s just a byproduct of the emotional divorce that’s part of truly saying goodbye and letting someone go.

Maybe digging in on Papa Hemingway will actually help me to remeet and redeem my old man…

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