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.©2021 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email email@example.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.