Chantal's Reviews > The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway
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Sep 17, 10


"It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.
'Will you have a lime juice or lemon squash?' Macomber asked.
'I’ll have a gimlet,' Robert Wilson told him.
'I’ll have a gimlet too. I need something,' Macomber’s wife said.
'I suppose it’s the thing to do,' Macomber agreed.

Hemingway accomplishes so much with so little page in "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber". To say that the opening sentence is captivating, to say that the four short sentences of dialogue immediately following it set the tone and scenario up brilliantly, to say that this same dialogue nails the characters, to say any of this seems a lame injustice to Hemingway and his talent – seems no more effective than to say, “It’s just… I can’t explain… Wow!”
Also noteworthy within this story is Hemingway’s gift for plot, his guts in pushing plot to its limits. But, I wonder: Wouldn’t “The Short Happy Life Of Francis Macomber” be a fine, already emotionally complex story if Margaret did not kiss Wilson passionately in front of her husband immediately following his shameful act of cowardice? If she had only dropped Macomber’s hand, and not leaned in to kiss Wilson, thereby implicating him, wouldn’t the story have held up? Wouldn’t it be a great story without Margaret slipping off to Wilson’s tent in the night? I think it would hold up barring theses incidents.
Some might argue these brazen acts on the part of Margaret go to character, and prepare the reader for the story’s final scene. Some might argue they make her more likeable – in the delicious flavor of a villain. Some might say they make the story better. I agree with all of this, but I also know that were I to have written this story (and I don’t mean to presume I could), I wouldn’t have let her do these things. Yes, I would have had her shoot Macomber in the end, but as for the other things: no. I wouldn’t have had the foresight, or the guts. (And there’s a lesson in this for me that warrants much consideration.)
“Hills Like White Elephants”: Again, the dialogue -- the incredible dialogue -- strikes me, humbles me, makes me want to snap my pen in two. Most brilliant within the dialogue in this story is what is not said, like the whole never-mentioned abortion business. But, what impresses me most is Hemingway’s hand in instructing the reader as to how to read this story.
“It tastes like licorice,” the girl said and put the glass down.
“That’s the way with everything.”
“Yes,” said the girl. “Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe.”
“Oh, cut it out.”
“You started it,” the girl said….
Up until the man chastises the girl, there is nothing to indicate that she isn’t truly speaking about her drink. This reproach from the man -- the emphatic “Oh”, the clipped words, the familiarity of it, set against the seemingly innocent opinion this girl has regarding the taste of her drink -- serves to alert the reader to the fact that something beyond the obvious is going on. And the girl’s response confirms this.
When she goes on to say, “I was being amused. I was having a fine time… I was trying. I said the mountains looked like what elephants. Wasn’t that bright?” the reader comes to realize that even their earlier conversation meant more than what the words on the page indicated. And in this way, Hemingway has effectively yanked the reader up by the cuff of her collar, as if to say, “Pay attention.” And the remainder of the story is read, considered with the deeper perspective necessary to make it, not just comprehensible, but deeply satisfying.
Where it is the beginning of “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” that blew me away, it is the ending of “A Simple Enquiry” that resonates with me. Essentially this story is two pages long. The first three paragraphs are long descriptive pieces to set the scene, and to very subtly put the reader’s mind where it needs to be to appreciate the story:
While he worked at the papers he put his fingers of his left hand into a saucer of oil and then spread the oil over his face, touching it very gently with the tips of his fingers. He was very careful to drain his fingers on the edge of the saucer so there was only a film of oil on them, and after he had stroked his forehead and his cheeks, he stroked hs nose very delicately between his fingers.

But again, it is with dialogue (set against the major laying on his bunk and the boy, Pinen, standing beside him), and the perfectly placed pauses between dialogue, that Hemingway turns the tension full throttle, and the reader follows the conversation with bated breath, until she sees Pinen safely dismissed. Whew!
Then the story draws to a close:
The major, lying on his bunk, looking at his cloth-covered helmet and his snow-glasses that hung from a nail on the wall, heard him walk across the floor. The little devil, he thought, I wonder if he lied to me.

And Pinen is in jeopardy once more, and the story isn’t finished, although the reader is dismissed. This is an interesting strategy that would make for a nice experiment for a student of the craft.
There are volumes to be said for Hemingway’s short stories, and even these brief annotations could go on for another hundred pages – I haven’t even mentioned “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”. So, I’ll wrap things up now with this: I read “A Clean, Well-lighted Place” half a dozen times just to relive the dialogue between the two waiters because, well… it’s just really… it makes me… uh, …you know it’s just … It’s wonderful, really!

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