jill's Reviews > To Have and Have Not

To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
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's review
Oct 10, 2008

liked it
bookshelves: found-on-a-plane
Read in March, 2009

A story of bad economic times, so topical. Fairly short, yet rambly. It started out tightly focused on Harry Morgan, then veers off in the last third to talk about seemingly every damn person in Key West. It was almost more three short stories with a common protagonist, with the third story being by far the weakest link. The only other Hemingway I've read are some of his short stories, so I'd still like to read at least one of his novels, assuming some of them read more like actual novels.
The first part of the book is interesting in that it goes the farthest in acknowledging that Harry Morgan is a "have" in comparison to many people. He gets screwed over by his client, a bigger "have" than Harry, but the topic of smuggling people out of Cuba shows us some plot devices (not characters, mind you, they aren't developed at all) that are worse off than the working class of Key West. The acknowledgement is a nice nuance, but not bothering with any characterization for any of these people makes it a pretty shallow one.
The second part is the shortest and provides the comic relief between the darker first and third parts. It's also the only time the "have nots" get to stick it to the "haves;" when a boat chartered by two government men stumbles across Morgan's boat at the tail end of a liquor smuggling operation, the captain refuses to allow the men to return to port to turn Morgan in, taking them for a full day of fishing so Morgan can get away instead. It's my favorite of the three sections; I like my comic relief.
There are some interesting parts in the third section of the book. Possibly my favorite chapter is the one and a half pages when Richard Gordon, the writer, sees Harry Morgan's wife running down the street distraught and decides to use it as inspiration for a chapter in his book because he has seen "in a flash of perception, the whole inner life of that type of woman;" and, of course, he could not be more completely, arrogantly wrong. It's a beautiful little pay off to the scene a few chapters earlier of the Morgans in bed. But the third section also includes the chapter in which we get a paragraph describing the inhabitants of each yacht in the marina is pretty tiresome -- bad rich person, bad rich person, bad rich person, good rich person, bad rich person -- since none of the people are actually germane to the plot in any way. This section also talks a bit about the conditions in Cuba, and hints again that there are people who have it even worse than the Key West working class. But, although one of the revolutionaries is portrayed fairly sympathetically, he has no personality beyond rationalizing the revolution.
There's plenty of misogyny, of course -- Morgan talks about how worthless his daughters are, and one of approximately three women who actually speak in the book actually says "I wish I were a man"-- but the relationship between Morgan and his wife is actually kind of nice.

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