What a book! Hendrickson takes the quirky view that writing a (kind of) biography of Hemingway using the old man's love of his boat, the Pilar, and evWhat a book! Hendrickson takes the quirky view that writing a (kind of) biography of Hemingway using the old man's love of his boat, the Pilar, and everything it connects him to will work. It does, in fascinating and unpredictable ways. PH writes, on every page, with an urgency that fully catches you up in his obsession. And he IS obsessed, just as much as Santiago is in "The Old Man and the Sea" to get that big fish back to shore.
PH's research is not merely relentless, it is joyful, and it is this quality, really, that sets the book apart as a reading experience. Everything is recreated, plunged into, imagined and reimagined, with a depth and intensity that grab you by the throat and never let go. Obviously, the book centers on Hem but it also presents side biographies of little-known friends of Hem's who serve to illuminate the great man's contradictory qualities.
Of course I use the phrase "great man" ironically. How could you not? Hemingway is easily one of the most tragically and artistically compelling figures ever to bestride the world stage. He was a great writer and a terrible one; he was a staunch friend and a vicious rejecter; he was a loving father and an absent one. He was all these things at once, sometimes on the same day.
The man's enduring magnetism comes first from the art and the achievement (How does a young man in his twenties write those short stories? There is at the heart of Hem's best work a profound sense of the death-in-life and the life-in-death that animates everything. His answer to this, on and off the page, was a passionate living and dying every day. Even as we turn our eyes away from the carnage, it is riveting)...and then from the legend. The latter both made him and destroyed him. It fed his hubris which, eventually, swallowed him whole. It is easy to dismiss Hemingway, and many do, but Hendrickson makes us see (and especially, FEEL) the reasons not to. He offers up the man in all his stunning complexities and larger-than-lifeness. You would not have wanted to be his friend when he turned on you (as he turned on so many) but here you grasp why so many were drawn to him anyway. The example of abused/rejected friend who stands for all the others is Archibald Macleish (himself a famous writer/poet) and here is what he says: "It would so abundantly easy to describe Ernest in terms, all of which would be historically correct, which would present him as a completely insufferable human being. Actually, he was one of the most profoundly human and spiritually powerful creatures I have ever known."
Hendrickson uses a phrase several times in the book which sums it all up, in a poetic style echoing Hemingway's own: "Amid so much ruin, still the beauty."
We live such gray, ordinary lives, most of us, and so the ruin and the beauty draw us back. Always the beauty. Always the ruin. Always together. ...more
Dark, darker, darkest. The attitude/voice/style here are blacker than the blackest coal mine but not only have all the canaries died...they never exisDark, darker, darkest. The attitude/voice/style here are blacker than the blackest coal mine but not only have all the canaries died...they never existed. Milo Burke, whose job is to get rich people to donate money to a third rate New York university, is fired and then temporarily "rehired" because of his long-ago college friendship with a megawealthy guy who's thinking of giving. It's "the ask" versus "the give", but of course never that simple. Lipsyte is witheringly whipsmart and his lash cuts deep into every conceivable aspect of modern American life. His observations are often precise and telling. An example: "She was a generically stunning woman: there were hundreds just like her in this part of the city, perfect storms of perfect bones, monuments to tone and hair technologies. Around here she was almost ordinary but you could still picture small towns where men might bludgeon their friends, their fathers, just to run their sun-cracked lips along her calves." On every page you gasp, laugh out loud or cringe, but eventually the bleakness of spirit and Milo's human ineffectuality become wearying, rather than compelling. As satire it is a bracingly up-to-the-minute evocation of today's American heart of darkness but as story it becomes, eventually, just depressing....more
Price is what used to be called a "writer's writer", which means (more or less) that his command of diction, style, voice, and such is high and his coPrice is what used to be called a "writer's writer", which means (more or less) that his command of diction, style, voice, and such is high and his command of plot/narrative momentum is low. When I first read one of his novels nearly 40 years ago (and now recall little of it), I was dazzled by the skill set. In "A Long and Happy Life", he writes in the classic Southern hothouse ways: in love with place, with atmosphere, with eccentricity, with wanderingly offbeat characters, and, of course, very much in love with language.
This is a novel of consciousness and imagination. And it is 19 year old Rosacoke's c. and i. we spend all our time in. She is a half-appealing/half-annoying character, in that Price's evocation of her inner and outer worlds is brilliant, but also in that we spend too much time in those worlds, without relief and without enough story to carry us along. It takes half the book for something significant to happen to Rosacoke, which is too long to languish in the forests and rivers and bird-conscious regions of her ploddingly step-by-step point of view. Rosacoke's "problem" is that she is "over-the-moon" about Wesley, a few years older than her, a fella who's now out of the military and selling motorcycles. These two are okay characters but not all that inherently fascinating as people. What holds us is the vision and the language and the style, not the story and the plot and the what-might-happen next.
Wesley is fatally inert, a dead cliche of a character. We want to know more about him and should but Price never gives us that and the story's overall effect/balance is badly compromised by this lack. What might've made the novel memorable is if Price had found the imaginative wherewithal to write half of it from Rosacoke's p.o.v. and half from Wesley's. But he isn't up to that.
All Rosacoke all-the-time becomes narratively oppressive. I'm all for beauty in prose and sensibility ("Beauty, Beauty, Beauty! by God") but it's not enough to sustain a too-languid story, nor particularly to hold the modern reader in place. Price's interest in the poetic/emotional dynamics of Rosacoke's inner life is one thing...but it's not enough things.
The ending is muddled, unconvincing, unsatisfying, abrupt. Price makes a hash of it (Wesley comes through, quite against character). He doubtless had the ending in mind all along but once the page count told him he was there he didn't really know how to pull it off...so he just stopped. We're left out on a limb, a bit baffled, and there's old Rosacoke with us...sorta confused her own self. ...more