Summary and book reviews of Hemingway's Boat by Paul Hendrickson

Hemingway's Boat

Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961

By Paul Hendrickson

Hemingway's Boat
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2011,
    544 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2012,
    544 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Marnie Colton

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About this Book

Book Summary

From a National Book Critics Circle Award winner, a brilliantly conceived and illuminating reconsideration of a key period in the life of Ernest Hemingway that will forever change the way he is perceived and understood.

Focusing on the years 1934 to 1961 - from Hemingway's pinnacle as the reigning monarch of American letters until his suicide - Paul Hendrickson traces the writer's exultations and despair around the one constant in his life during this time: his beloved boat, Pilar.

We follow him from Key West to Paris, to New York, Africa, Cuba, and finally Idaho, as he wrestles with his best angels and worst demons. Whenever he could, he returned to his beloved fishing cruiser, to exult in the sea, to fight the biggest fish he could find, to drink, to entertain celebrities and friends and seduce women, to be with his children. But as he began to succumb to the diseases of fame, we see that Pilar was also where he cursed his critics, saw marriages and friendships dissolve, and tried, in vain, to escape his increasingly diminished capacities.

Generally thought of as a great writer and an unappealing human being, Hemingway emerges here in a far more benevolent light. Drawing on previously unpublished material, including interviews with Hemingway's sons, Hendrickson shows that for all the writer's boorishness, depression, and alcoholism, and despite his choleric anger, he was capable of remarkable generosity - to struggling writers, to lost souls, to the dying son of a friend.

We see most poignantly his relationship with his youngest son, Gigi, a doctor who lived his adult life mostly as a cross-dresser, and died squalidly and alone in a Miami women's jail. He was the son Hemingway forsook the least, yet the one who disappointed him the most, as Gigi acted out for nearly his whole life so many of the tortured, ambiguous tensions his father felt. Hendrickson's bold and beautiful book strikingly makes the case that both men were braver than we know, struggling all their lives against the complicated, powerful emotions swirling around them. As Hendrickson writes, "Amid so much ruin, still the beauty."

Hemingway's Boat is both stunningly original and deeply gripping, an invaluable contribution to our understanding of this great American writer, published fifty years after his death.

AMERICAN LIGHT
APRIL 3, 1934

The temperature in Manhattan got into the high sixties. G-men shot an accomplice of Dillinger's in Minnesota; the Nazis were running guns to the Moors; Seminoles were reviving a tribal dance in honor of alligators in Florida; Lou Gehrig had two homers in an exhibition game in Atlanta. And roughly the bottom third of America was out of work.


According to "Steamship Movements in New York," a column that runs daily in the business section of the Evening Journal, nine liners are to dock today. The SS Paris, 34,500 tons, is just sliding in after a seven-day Atlantic crossing, from Le Havre via Plymouth, at Pier 57 on the West Side of New York City.

"Expected to dock: 5:00 P.M.," reports the newspaper. And she does.

If this were a Movietone News item about Hemingway the big-game hunter, arriving home after eight months abroad, and you were in a darkened movie palace of the thirties awaiting the feature, you'd see ropes being thrown off, gangplanks being ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Hemingway's Boat is well-written and rigorously researched, but it's an exhaustive and exhausting read. While I appreciate that Hendrickson has chosen to frame Hemingway's last 30 years through his love of fishing and spending time on the water, the sheer volume of information on types of fish, fishing gear, and boating lore tends to detract from the narrative itself. I doubt that most readers, even Hemingway scholars, want to know the complete history of the shipyard that built Hemingway's beloved Pilar. The author quotes so extensively from external sources that the book's bibliography ends up being its most striking feature; I often found myself wanting to read these sources (primarily memoirs written by Hemingway's relatives and associates) for myself so that I could come to my own conclusions... Ultimately, this book feels like a flawed achievement, one that has already garnered much critical acclaim but will likely prove too daunting for all save the most fanatical Hemingway fans.   (Reviewed by Marnie Colton).

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Media Reviews
The New York Review of Books

Rich and enthralling... His commanding personality comes to life again in these pages, his great charm and warmth as well as his egotism and aggression.

The Washington Post

Large-minded [and] rigorously fair... An indispensable document... He gives the ravaged old man something more honest: a fair summing-up of a life like no other.

Cleveland Plain-Dealer

Glorious... A copious, mystical portrait... This big-hearted book leaves us with a litany of sorrows, but also images of grace: of heroism in Gigi's muddled final moments; of tenderness and lucidity in Hemingway's paranoid last days; and of Pilar and her promise of escape, renewal, and the open sea.

Miami Herald

An often lyrical mélange of biography, lit-crit meditation, and straight reportage... Smart and lovingly crafted, a worthy addition.

The Christian Science Monitor

Inspired... Enthralling... Hendrickson writes so well that every page is a pleasure to absorb.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Admirably absorbing, important, and moving. Acutely sensitive to his subject's volatile, 'gratuitously mean' personality, Hendrickson offers fascinating details and sheds new light on Hemingway's kinder, more generous side.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Splendid... A moving, highly evocative account... Appearing on the 50th anniversary of Hemingway's death, this beautifully written, nuanced meditation deserves a wide audience.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Unique... Featuring spry writing and clever insight but thankfully little critical analysis of Ernest Hemingway's work (that's been done to death), Hendrickson brings fresh meat to the table, delivering one of the most satisfying Hemingway assessments in many years. A delight for Ernesto's numerous fans.

Author Blurb Robert Coles, author of Children of Crisis: A Study of Courage and Fear
The complex life of a deservedly renowned, brilliantly energetic storyteller is here told with knowing sensitivity, and remarkably, without resort to the mannerisms of the psychiatric clinic or to the various canons of the literary and educational worlds.

Author Blurb Jay McInerney, author of How It Ended: New and Collected Stories
Just when you thought there was nothing left to say about Papa, along comes Hemingway's Boat. Paul Hendrickson proposes that the thirty-eight-foot motor yacht Pilar was the true love of Hemingway's life, and from this slant angle manages to bring the revered and reviled author of The Snows of Kilamanjaro back to life for us once again.

Author Blurb Douglas G. Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge
Paul Hendrickson is the most innovative and creative nonfiction writer I know. Just read Hemingway's Boat and you'll see what I mean... A landmark publishing event.

Author Blurb David Maraniss, author of When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi
Hemingway's Boat is Paul Hendrickson at his peak, which is as good as it gets. I've not read a book in years that struck me so deeply paragraph after paragraph, page after page, chapter after chapter - the writing, research, sensibility, honesty, sadness and guts to steer Pilar and Hemingway down so many unexplored and revelatory ocean streams.

Reader Reviews
Marilyn Samuel

Window on a SAD, SAD personal world
I disagree that the fishing and the boat lore distract from the body of the work. It occurred to me that the "passion" that Hemingway extended to his fishing and his boat was exactly the "passion" that he Searched for all of his ...   Read More

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Ernest Hemingway and Aldous Huxley

On the surface, few early- to mid-twentieth century writers could be more different than Ernest Hemingway and Aldous Huxley. Hemingway (1899-1961), a rugged American with an appetite for alcohol, women, and outdoor sports, fine-tuned the art of the terse, elliptical sentence. Huxley (1894-1963), on the other hand, was born into a prominent English family, wrote elegant satirical and dystopian novels like Crome Yellow and Brave New World, and embraced the new frontier of hallucinogenic drugs, most explicitly in his extended essay on mescaline usage, The Doors of Perception. Hemingway eagerly participated in World War I as an ambulance driver, sustaining a serious wound that kept him hospitalized for months and that stoked his public image as...

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