Monday, March 01, 2021

In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway

You're going to start thinking I read nothing but short stories, soon, after three collections in a row. This is the last one for a while, since I have screwed up and forgotten to read my daily short story for about a week. And, the collection I'm reading is a thick one that I'm not in love with. I may even ditch it and put it in the donation pile. 

In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway was Hemingway's first collection of short stories, published when he was still a fresh young thing at 25 years of age. It's a unique book. It starts with a vignette called "On the Quai in Smyrna" It's such a confusing bit of writing that I had to look it up online to see what on Earth was happening. And, it turns out that was a deliberate approach. 

From Spark Notes:

["On the Quai at Smyrna"] begins the collection by disorienting the reader. Ernest Hemingway makes this story by confusing by never establishing the setting or the characters. All he gives is a series of impressions and memories. This disorientation actually serves to orient the reader to the tone and flow of the stories to come. 

So, after looking that up I thought, "Great, I'm not going to understand a word of this book," but that did not turn out to be the case at all, although there were some stories that didn't make a lot of sense to me. The vast majority were his Nick Adams stories, which start with a young Nick accompanying his father to a childbirth and another with his father getting frustrated over the local Native Americans refusing to do a job for him. 

In the latter, the doctor wants the natives to hack up a tree that floated over to the Adams' property to prevent ending up with a rotting log on his shore. The doctor treats the local natives in exchange for odd jobs and thinks they're just trying to get out of doing work when one of the natives says he can chop it but there's a lumber company logo on the log and it's technically stealing, making the doctor rethink the job. Later, you follow Nick to war and around Europe and home, where he spends time in the woods. Not all of the stories are about Nick Adams but a good portion of them are and I thought they were surprisingly mature for such a young writer. 

In between the stories are more vignettes, often but not always war scenes. 

There's also a story about a jockey and his son and how the jockey becomes corrupt that I thought was pretty fabulous: "My Old Man". I marked a quote from that particular story and started to type it up before realizing that apparently I marked it because it had an offensive ethnic slur (used very casually) and that I probably flagged it to remind myself that there were numerous times I grimaced reading these stories because of similar words/racial slurs that were offensive. So, bear that in mind if you read it. 

Recommended but not a favorite - I am pretty much in awe of how skilled Hemingway's writing was at such an early age. But, while I appreciated the skill, I didn't love the stories. What I loved the most about In Our Time was the glimpse of Hemingway's early writing. It was particularly fascinating to find that everything Hemingway wrote was so very Hemingway from the beginning: bullfights, fishing, war, heaving drinking, frustrations with women. I've now read his first book and his last (unfinished novel) along with a few in the middle. Yep, Hemingway was just Hemingway, once and forever. 

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  1. Short stories can be great in a time of such distraction and stress. I have struggled reading Hemmingway- liked For Whom the Bell Tolls but never could get into A Moveable Feast or The Sun Also Rises tho I tried several times. I ought to try some of his short stories.

    1. Yes, I've really enjoyed the short stories, this year, and I think that's part of the reason. My reading has been in the tank, in general.

      As to Hemingway . . . same. Sometimes I get him, sometimes I don't. I liked A Moveable Feast but didn't love it. Can't get into The Sun Also Rises, so far. I'll have to try For Whom the Bell Tolls. I'm pretty sure I have a copy.

  2. I have a hard time really getting into short stories but I respect them if that makes any sense. I didn't know Hemingway had any short stories, actually. Oddly enough, I am reading a collection right now. Murakami came out with a new collection. Well, it comes out in April but it's very good and very Murakami. It does leave me wanting more at the end of each story though and I know from the past that he has sometimes turned shorts into novels so I am hoping he does that with one particular one that I enjoyed about a talking monkey who steals names.

    1. Yes, I get that. Cool about the new Murakami. I've only read short stories and nonfiction by Murakami, not a single novel. Need to amend that. A talking monkey who steals names sounds fun! And, yes, Hemingway wrote quite a few short stories. I have a thicker book of his stories on my classics shelf but I haven't gotten to it, yet. If you dislike endings that don't always feel complete, it's a little harder to find short story collections you'll enjoy. I don't mind more open endings as long as the stories are not so hallucinogenic that I don't know what's going on at all. That annoys me.


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