MG's Reviews > The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories

The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories by Ernest Hemingway
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Apr 26, 12

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I did not enjoy Hemingway's fiction for many years. But I teach his work now and find great pleasure in his short stories. I do like the paratactic style and "anti-metronomic" dialogue. I can linger on a Hemingway paragraph for a long time. Pared down as it is, the apparent gaps and leaps between his sentences make me wonder about what he chiseled away. His prose is deceptively simple. No scraps left, but there's real work there, real thought. I sense this because after I finish reading a story like "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," I know that Hemingway is illuminating something dark and human in me.

As far as characters go, empty people who are full of themselves deserve empty prose and stunted conversation. I mean for 'emptiness' to be a genuine compliment in fictional prose and verse. In that respect, I appreciate Hemingway the way that I do Samuel Beckett, or perhaps Dickinson, too. Conveying spiritual and moral emptiness in literature is hard to do well--authors who try too hard annoy me by saying too much. I think I am annoying myself now.

"The Snows of Kilimanjaro" is the opening story, but I teach it last. All the trademark literary features in the other stories are perfectly orchestrated in Kilimanjaro. I believe that this particular story is a kind of mis en abyme, a real emblem for "nada." Embedded in a story that has two ambiguous endings are memories and unfinished sketches that Harry, a writer with a rotting, stinking leg, claims he never wrote. Harry "gets wasted" for sure--his literary talents are wasted, he claims. His leg is wasting away from gangrene. His time is being wasted waiting for something, someone to "save" him. His marriage is trashed with bickering and stupid conversation. There is a hyena and some vultures lurking around, scavenging for dead animals.

I see all of the above in many of the characters and stories in this collection. Like the dialogue between characters, his stories do "speak to each other," but in an elliptical way, of course. When I read him carefully, I listen hard for what they each could be saying to me and to each other.
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