Jay's Reviews > Men Without Women

Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway
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's review
Aug 21, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: hemingway
Read from October 19 to 21, 2011 — I own a copy

I read more short stories in 2011 than I had read in all the past 30 years. Not only did I read more short stories, the ones I read were extraordinarily rewarding: Tim Winton’s The Turning and Colm Tóibín’s The Empty Family to name two of the exceptional. I could easily add Hemingway’s stories published in this early volume to that list.

Men Without Women was Hemingway's second published collection of short stories (1927), appearing after In Our Time (1925) and his novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926) . Even given its early publication date (1927), I found the 14 stories to have all the breath of modernity, realism and relevance that I have enjoyed from the short stories written by Tóibín and Winton.

Hemingway’s stories, many set in Spain or Italy, deal with themes that marked Hemingway as a writer: infidelity, war, aging, loss of innocence, competition, masculinity, death, bullfighting. They also are written in his deceptively sparse, compact style in which sometimes much of the actual story rests almost unperceptively beneath the written words.

In “An Alpine Idyll”, for example, the narrator relates a story told to him and his companion while dining at an Alpine inn. The story involves a peasant whose wife died in a valley closed off by heavy snows. Unable to bring the body into town for burial because of the heavy snows, the husband stored the corpse for months in a shed. When eventually he did bring the body into town, the priest interrogated him about the body’s condition. The peasant confessed:

“’Well,’ said Olz, ‘when she died I made the report to the commune and I put her in the shed across the top of the big wood. When I started to use the big wood she was stiff and I put her up against the wall. Her mouth was open and when I came into the shed at night to cut up the big wood, I hung the lantern from it.’”

But there is a subtle hint in the story that the husband may have used the body for more than a lantern holder—a hint that the husband may have used the cadaver for other purposes.

Five of the stories, including “An Alpine Idyll”, involve Nick Adams, one of Hemingway’s enduring characters. We encounter Nick in those stories at various times in his life from youth to adult and begin to see him emerge in growing complexity. In “Hills Like White Elephants” Hemingway treats the issue of abortion; in “A Simple Inquiry”, the topic in homosexuality; in “Fifty Grand”, the topic is honor.

One of my favorite stories is “The Undefeated”, the longest in the collection. It describes an aging matador in his last encounter in a bull ring, foreshadowing “Death in the Afternoon in regard to Hemingway’s masterful descriptions of the actual encounters between matadors and bulls and complimenting the bull fight described in The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway captures in the story much of the drama and worn pageantry of the fiesta brava. In “Banal Story”, the next to the last story in the collection, Hemingway hones his deeply satirical vein as he presents his eulogy to a fallen matador, Manual García Maera.
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