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 Drawing on previously unpublished material, including interviews with Hemingway's sons, Hendrickson shows that for all the writer's boorishness, depression, and alcoholism, and despite his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.
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 ...
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).
Full Review (1125 words).
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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