First published in 1925, this collection is arguably the book that catapulted Hemingway to fame. The collection contains short stories (many about Hemingway’s “Nick Adams”) and short, one to three paragraphs vignettes mostly about war-time. The publisher wanted to leave some of the stories out, and especially the short scenarios, but Hemingway insisted they all belonged together. A careful reading shows why: though the stories can stand on their own, and often have no connection between characters or location, they are tied together with themes of loss, alienation, and the search for purpose and meaning in a dreary world. The vignettes inform the stories, which flesh out the ideas. (Some disagree, believing any connections are meaningless.)
The usual Hemingway is here in style and content. The style is the sparse, efficient prose that can convey deep emotions and thoughts. Here is the early version of that style, but still quintessentially Hemingway. Still, some see the influences of Gertrude Stein and others within, especially in the vignettes.
The content, settings, and themes are those that Hemingway would revisit to in his later classic writings and novels: war, return from war, bullfighting, hunting and fishing, the difficulty of marriage, disappointment, and so on. As so often in Hemingway writings, they are a mixture of literary experimentation, autobiographical elements, colloquial dialogue and prose, and exploration of moral values.
I had read some of these stories in other collections, but reading them together as first published provided new insights and meaning for me. The stories alone, though of a different time and culture, still resonate today. The themes of water and land, dark and light, and many other dichotomies are subtle but full of artistic meaning for thought. The insight into his early writings as a place along the path to his later writings is also fascinating. This is a collection I could read again and again every few years.
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