In Our Time – Ernest Hemingway

GUEST REVIEWER – Surly Joe

  • IOTTitle: In Our Time
  • Author: Ernest Hemingway
  • ISBN 0684822761 (ISBN13: 9780684822768)
  • Series: Stand Alone
  • Published: February 28th 1958 by Charles Scribner’s Sons (first published 1924)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Genre/s: Literary Fiction/Short Stories
  • Print Length: 156 pages
  • Source: Purchased

My critical eye is half-closed.  I’m writing as a fan.  Intelligently, hopefully, but with admitted bias.  Ernest Hemingway is one of my favourite writers.  And while I don’t always understand him, I continue to read and re-read him.  I’m not critical because how could I be critical?  It would be like telling Picasso he used too much gray or telling Hitchcock that the Psycho shower scene wasn’t quite right.

In 1925, Hemingway published In Our Time, his first collection of short stories.  He was young and poor and knew he wanted to write.  His methodology, according to his somewhat-fictionalized autobiography A Moveable Feast, written many years later about his early life, was to write one true and pure story about everything he knew well.  And so “The End of Something” and “Big Two-Hearted River – Parts One and Two” are about camping and fishing. “Cross Country Snow” is about skiing.  “Out of Season” takes place in Italy, where Hemingway spent time as an ambulance driver and was wounded in World War One.  Other stories discuss boxers, soldiers, and bullfighting, subjects that make Hemingway the most masculine of writers, themes that would appear over and over throughout his career and develop as full-length novels.  And of course, scattered throughout, are episodes of drinking, understandably coming from the pen of one of America’s premier alcoholic authors.

Not only did In Our Time introduce Hemingway as a new writer, it introduced him as a new kind of writer.  His stories were unusually stark, stripped of adjectives, short and blunt.  They seem to begin just after the beginning and end just before the finish.  They explore intimate events in extreme detail.  Plot seemed secondary.  Between each story are very brief bursts of micro-narrative, usually violent and disturbingly casual, feeling like cathartic moments needing to be purged.

Consistent throughout most of In Our Time is the character of Nick Adams, a young man who is essentially Hemingway’s conduit, who allows Hemingway to tell his own stories and express his own doubts and fears and hopes in the guise of fiction.  In “Big Two-Hearted River, Part One”, Nick is travelling alone through the countryside:  “His muscles ached and the day was hot, but Nick felt happy.  He felt he had left everything behind, the need for thinking, the need to write, other needs.  It was all back of him.”  And later, “he had not been unhappy all day”, as if being happy was an unusual occurrence.  Knowing the history of depression and suicide in Hemingway’s family, and foreshadowing his own self-inflicted death, happiness was indeed a rare commodity.

In 1954, Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  By that time, he was legendary, ranked in the pantheon of 20th century writers.  I discovered his genius after a trip to Paris, where I walked where he walked and sat in cafes where he sat.  And now, whenever I want to read but can’t decide what to read, I usually end up reaching for him, to re-explore what I’ve already explored many times before, to re-enjoy, usually to discover something new in the familiar words.

HemingwayErnest Miller Hemingway was an American author and journalist. His economical and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations. Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. He published seven novels, six short story collections and two non-fiction works. Three novels, four collections of short stories and three non-fiction works were published posthumously. Many of these are considered classics of American literature.

CKIn his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom.  His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side.  After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia,  Circumstance led to a career back in Toronto.  He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.

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