Current book: In Our Time
Pages read: 12-158 (end)
As you can see, this book wasn't much of a reading challenge. It's odd, actually, that it made it onto a list of the 100 greatest novels, considering the fact that it barely qualifies as a novel. It's more of a collection of short stories that are vaguely related to one another. They share some characters and subject matter, but not enough to qualify as an actual novel.
Anyway, as far as the message of the stories goes, they seem to combine to portray the futility of human existence. (You're surprised, right? Because Hemingway never writes about the futility of human existence.) Almost all the stories are short enough to qualify as vignettes, really, and they range from young adult experiences fishing in the woods to railroad encounters with hobos to continental travel in unhappy marriages. All of these are interspersed with one-page or less glimpses of World War I combat experiences and also, for some reason, bullfighting. Like I said earlier, it's all only vaguely related.
Still, the prose is stark and direct; it's some of the most classically modernist writing I've seen. The description is straightforward enough to convey emotion almost entirely through a subtle play of impression and implication. We're left to fill in what isn't given to us, and in so doing, we must necessarily add emotional and thematic interpretation. I hate to admit it, because I've never liked Hemingway and would much rather maintain my contempt than recognize his artistry (Because, come on, think about whose blog you're reading, here.), but I'm forced give him credit for his ability to corner me into examining the motives of his characters and the messages of his plot. You just can't read a story about a woman wanting to rescue a cat from the rain during her vacation at an Italian villa without asking yourself what the cat means to her, what it implies about her relationship with her husband, and what the cat's eventual rescue by a maid who delivers it to their room says about the future. (You may be thinking, "Um, I can," but that's why I'm writing the blog and you're not. (Oh, don't get all upset at my snark. You know you like it.)) Honestly, I'd challenge you to read the story and not find yourself searching it for deeper meaning. I'd call that a literary success.
I don't think it's enough of a novel to be one of the 100 best, but it has made me reconsider Hemingway's merit as an author.
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