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Saturday, November 24, 2007


Books open doors, it’s true, and Ernest Hemingway’s first book published in the U.S., In Our Time, a selection of short stories, opens the doors to all the great novels he was yet to write. We learn about the man, what he felt and how he thought. Though experienced in life, he was barely out of his boyhood when he wrote In Our Time.

I like short stories, and these are exciting and vivid. Every Hemingway moment comes alive through clarity of details. Each story is a motion picture in words.

Bullfighting? You feel the bullfighter’s anxiety, his sweat mixed with artistic confidence and respect. You also sense the massive power of the bull, his muscles throbbing as he seeks to kill. You practically share his feelings in the ring. Trout fishing? On a hot day, you see the sparkling pebbles at the bottom of the slow-moving stream; you see the line expertly cast, the weight heavy enough to carry the weightless fly out to the spot where it will attract the hungry trout. You experience the fight, and you recognize the respect of combatants in battle. You follow the ritualistic steps of doing it right.

Hemingway’s war stories reflect the horror of war and the confusion that sometimes exists when the smoke clears and the weary soldier returns home often unsure of how to re-enter his old world. We share, in many of the stories, the struggles to bring peace back to a confused and chaotic world and to somehow make sense of life.

The real Hemingway returned from WWI broken by by war and by love, and some of these stories reflect those feelings and the healing involved. We also catch a glimpse of the expatriat American floundering through Europe looking for something even he cannot explain.

If you’re already a Hemingway fan, re-visiting these stories is delightfully enlightening; you see again the birth of the Hemingway hero, the selection of themes, the genesis of ideas that later turn into novels, and the frailties and sensibilities of one of America’s most formidable writers.

In Our Time is a slim volume, quickly read and thoroughly entertaining. With the short story format, it does not require prolonged periods of concentration, and yet, in the end, it seems as if you’ve come such a long way. Enjoy what good writing can give with In Our Time.

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