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The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway
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Feb 09, 10

bookshelves: short-stories
Recommended for: hardcore Hemingway fans
Read in February, 2010, read count: 1

Uneven. About half of the 24 stories in this collection are successful. Hemingway's prose (form) only fits certain topics (content). For example, it works marvelously in the early stories about Nick's childhood, each of which centers around some Joycean epiphany or childhood lesson. The form does not work, however, in the later, plotless, slice-of-life stories of fishing, camping, or skiing.

I had not noticed prior to reading this book the massive Chekhov influence on Hemingway, especially since Hemingway reportedly said Chekhov only wrote a handful of good stories, "but he was a doctor," I guess he quipped. Perhaps that was sarcasm after all (as opposed to arrogance).

The stories work together remarkably well as something like a novel (like Go Down, Moses).

One at a time:

"Three Shots" -- A nice Chekhovian sketch which succeeds in taking the reader back into the mind of a child and recreating the fear of the dark which never really dies (and foreshadows "Now I Lay Me").
"Indian Camp" -- Same. Short yet profound. Hemingway shows us a birth and a death through the eyes of a child in only a handful of pages.
"The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife" -- Disappointing ending. Nothing happens.
"Ten Indians" -- Great story of a boy's first heartbreak. Great pathos.
"The Indians Moved Away" -- Hemingway gives you a three-generational tragic saga in three pages. Amazing.
"The Light of the World" -- Wonderful analysis of hero worship. A parody of Christianity, but well-written (As Henry James says, the reader must grant the writer the subject and judge him only on how he handles it).
"The Battler" -- Interesting characters (and characterization). Good.
"The Killers" -- Famously good dialogue. Ending hits you like a punch to the stomach.
"The Last Good Country" -- 60 pages with seemingly no point. Clunker.
"Crossing the Mississippi" -- Nothing happens. Hemignway never finished it, so we can forgive him.
"Night Before Landing" -- Short, yet reveals a lot of characterization. No small feat.
"Nick sat against the wall..." -- Hemingway doesn't just paint a picture, he rolls an entire movie in a page. Amazing.
"Now I Lay Me" -- Nothing happens. Seemingly pointless.
"A Way You'll Never Be" -- Nonsense stream-of-consciousness stuff. I was lost.
"In Another Country" -- Great pathos
"Big Two-Hearted River" -- Seems pointless. Just descriptions of Nick setting up and camp, etc. Nothing really happens even though a lot happens, if you know what I mean.
"The End of Something" -- on its own, completely corny. But good and effective when followed by "Three-Day Blow."
"The Three-Day Blow" -- only works when following "The End of Something." They should have been bolted together into one story.
"Summer People"
"Wedding Day" -- Some good lines (the groom felt like a boxer before a match or a man about to be hanged) but otherwise nothing really happens.
"On Writing" -- Stream-of-consciousness/thinking out loud. Nothing happens.
"An Alpine Idyll" -- Interesting conceit (to get the sexton to tell the story about the peasant and his dead wife) but the story ends without any conclusion, moral or otherwise.
"Cross-Country Snow" -- Slice-of-life. No one pays for slice-of-life.
"Fathers and Sons" --Good, but I have to ask, is Billy Gilby really okay with Nick having sex with his sister right there in the woods? Is this sort of thing 'okay' in Ojibway culture? WTF? Of course, sex is important to the story (and the title of the story) as Nick complains to himself that his father, though giving him good advice on hunting, could never talk to him about sex. But Billy asks them if they're done! WTF.
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