Excerpt of Hemingway's Boat by Paul Hendrickson
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But this is a newsreel of the imagination. Hemingway's poised at the Paris's rail with his spouse. He's intent on purchasing a boat, but right now he's allowing photographs to be made, and he's popping quotes. Freeze the frame. Stop time in a box.
Pauline Hemingway is in a zebra-striped suit and an almost dowdy hat, curled at the brim, tilting right to left. Her right shoulder touches her husband's left. She is so small beside him. Her hair is cropped like a boy's. She has a boyish physique and is known for her disinclination to use makeup. (It's true she likes to keep her nails and toes manicured for her husband, often lacquering them in light pink.) Her body is turned a few degrees away from the rail, as if she might decide to walk off any second now. She's probably not getting a word in edgewise. She isn't a beautiful woman, but she isn't unattractive, either. She is four years and a day older than her husband, who is leaning forward, right into the middle of things, as if right into the middle of reporters' notebooks. Both his arms are on the rail, and his right hand is holding the brim of a fedora that has a wide, dark band. He's wearing a suit and tie and there's a sliver of handkerchief visible at the top of his vest pocket. No matter his dress, he's unmistakably a man of the outdoors, with the body of an athlete. His hair looks Brylcreemed and newly cut, although a strand or two at the back of his head are out of place. Around his seventeen-and-a-half-inch neck, inside his dress shirt, is a scapular: he's a convert to Catholicism, which is his wife's devoutly practiced faith. (She's a "cradle Catholic," while his on-again, off-again devotions are reputed to have arisen out of the shocks of World War I.) He's known to wear his scapular unfailingly in these years. It's got an image of Christ on it, suspended from a brown, shoestring-like loop. At home, in Key West, friends have observed him with the scapular, and how he'll make the sign of the cross before he goes in swimming.
That smile: hobnailed and hard-boiled all the way, just this side of aggressive. The more you study the photograph, however, the more you see that both Hemingways are holding a pose.
This picture, or versions of it, is going to get picked up and run in many hinterland places, including in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, where winter still has the earth in her grip, and where a young, self-styled, Hemingway-like character will see the photograph and tear it out of the Pioneer Press and fold it into his pocket and pack his knapsack and hop a freight to Florida, in hopes of meeting his writing idol. The young man's name is Arnold Morse Samuelson, and he is in for the ride of his life. But that's running out ahead.
Not every city editor in New York - there are something like nine dailies in the city in 1934 - has sent a reporter to the docks today to shag quotes and to compose deathless passages on deadline about the return of the native. (In the old days of the news business, these pieces were often known as "brights." Go get me a Hemingway bright, some pale, overweight editor at the Times surely growled at a reporter on the city desk.) And what is the "fascinating man" saying to the press boys? He's telling them how he gives first honors to the leopards, "because they strike the fastest." But the lion is such a noble beast, too, he says. "He is not afraid or stupid. He does not want to fight, but sometimes man makes him, and then it is up to the man to shoot his way out of what he has got himself into." With the lion and the leopard, "you're either quick or you're dead. I saw a lion do one hundred yards in three seconds flat, which may give you an idea." The hunter saw ninety-six lions altogether and at one point he photographed twenty-nine lionesses "preening themselves like a group of finishing school girls." He made a moral bargain with himself to bring down only animals that were utter strangers to him; the lions that he'd stalked with his camera he could somehow not force himself to shoot. But now he intends to return to his home in Key West and resume his vocation. His season of intense writing, he hints, may or may not concern Africa.
Excerpted from Hemingway's Boat by Paul Hendrickson. Copyright © 2011 by Paul Hendrickson. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.