David Schaafsma's Reviews > In Our Time

In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
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it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction-20th-century
Read 2 times. Last read July 17, 2017 to July 31, 2017.

“In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing, he felt quite sure he would never die”—Hemingway, “Indian Camp”

“Dear Jesus, please get me out. Christ, please, please, please, Christ. If you only keep me from being killed I'll do anything you say. I believe in you and I'll tell everybody in the world that you are the only thing that matters. Please, please, dear Jesus' The shelling moved further up the line. We went to work on the trench and in the morning the sun came up and the day was hot and muggy and cheerful and quiet. The next night back at Mestre he did not tell the girl he went upstairs with at the Villa Rosa about Jesus. And he never told anybody.” --Hemingway

In Our Time is a book I have read several times over the years. In my view, Hemingway is one of the greatest writers of all time. Certainly one of the most influential writers, in terms of style, a kind of tough-minded minimalism that allows for very little commentary, few adverbs. Not flowery or “showing off” as he would have said; straightforward, simple, direct prose. Hem started out as a journalist and maybe his style in part extends out of that reporter’s call for description/observation, in a just-the-facts, ma’am approach. Depictions of women are problematic, of course. He married many women, he slept with many more. That energy, the fame, who knows why? But I can guess at it through a reading of the prose, those central characters. The joie de vivre and the anguish. And I love the central great novels—The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Old Man and The Sea—but the real gems are the stories, which I am re-reading.

A couple weeks ago I was heading to northern Wisconsin for a short vacation, so thought to begin re-reading In Our Time, his second book, because it is a north country book. Tomorrow I head for a few days to northern Michigan, to the exact geographical area of these stories—the Petoskey, Michigan region, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where Hem spent his early summers. I have a photograph I recently found of my mother holding me in her arms when I was four months old, near Lake Manistique in the U. P. where I stayed in a cabin every year in the summer for more than thirty years with my family. Hem traveled each summer from Oak Park, Illinois where he lived and I now live, to this area in the north where his family had a cottage.

The construction of this book is unique, experimental, even now, mostly short short stories, some of them 2-3 pages, set in northern Michigan interspersed with even shorter vignettes set in WWI where Hem had served as an ambulance driver. The (mostly) war stories depict violence; there’s a couple of bullfighting he would have seen in Spain in the early twenties. The domestic stories are the Nick Adams stories, about nature, hunting, fishing, backpacking, skiing, mother and father, friends, drinking, girls. In general one might be tempted to call this Hemingways’s tales of Innocence and Experience, a record of contrasts, but there is trauma in both the Michigan and European stories.

Reading them this time I see these early stories as gems—not all of them amazingly good, but he is already the model in these stories for generations of writers all over the world. What I am reading in the stories now is a prophecy of what is to come: There’s early drinking, early struggles with girls/women, there’s plenty of depression (though in my early reading I might have thought of it as a kind of existential brooding). There is plenty of unhappiness in these stories, yes, and at one point Nick asks his father about suicide, which Hem committed in 1961, after having won the Nobel Prize in 1953. A lifelong struggle with depression leading to suicide, and you can see this in the stories. It was always there for him, a family history of depression and suicide.

But the style is wonderful, in the early gems, especially, “The Three Day Blow,” about a break-up with a girl Nick was nearly engaged to; “My Old Man,” a heart-breaking story about a boy’s admiration for his jockey father, who as he got older became corrupt, involved in “funny” business; “Soldier’s Home,” about Nick’s coming home from the war, depressed and alienated, changed; and the wonderful trout-fishing story, “Big Two-Hearted River” (it’s in the U.P., but it’s a lie, a fisherman never reveals his fishing holes; this isn’t his favorite fishing river). "Indian Camp," where Nick's father delivers a baby by c-section with less than adequate resources, let's just say. Not all the stories are great here, but the few great stories hold up the collection as great, and the experimental concept is also great, overcoming some slighter, earlier stories. And there is everywhere his style, his irony, his barely contained emotions, his darkness and isolation.
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Reading Progress

July, 1969 – Started Reading
July, 1969 – Finished Reading
September 7, 2012 – Shelved
September 17, 2012 – Shelved as: fiction-20th-century
July 17, 2017 – Started Reading
July 17, 2017 –
page 60
38.46% "I spent last weekend in northern Wisconsin, at about the same latitude as Petosky, Michigan, where Hemingway spent most of his early summers. Many of these early stories, Nick Adams stories originate here."
July 31, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-15 of 15 (15 new)

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message 1: by Anne (new) - added it

Anne Enjoyed your commentary, as usual, David. And enjoy your vacation. I recall the first time I ate at the famous Petoskey restaurant Hemingway frequented (blocking on the name)....


David Schaafsma Anne wrote: "Enjoyed your commentary, as usual, David. And enjoy your vacation. I recall the first time I ate at the famous Petoskey restaurant Hemingway frequented (blocking on the name)...."The City Grill? I think that might be the name of it. Will be mostly around the Tahquamenon Falls area. Have to see Pictured Rocks, Kitchitikipi Springs.


message 3: by david (new)

david Great review, David. I never understood Hemingway's life. Everyplace I have ever travelled to, he has preceded me. He drank quite a bit and roamed around, as you stated above. When did he have time to write? And what age did he die at?


message 4: by Doc. (new) - added it

Doc. "Depictions of women are problematic, of course." What an understatement! :P But I'm a fan, too. And I agree with so much of what you've written in your excellent review. I read this piece about him recently and found it very interesting: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/201...


David Schaafsma Thanks, S, and yeah, I read that article. I also read the beginning of a book that focused less on his boozing and womanizing than on his depression, which was useful. I also just recently took a look at a new book on his radical political activity, his perspective sometimes suggested in the novels. Gopnik says he was "sexually transgressive" instead of what people mostly have said, that he was just a male-focused pig, which in general seems to have ben true in most of the fiction, for sure, and maybe in real life, too. He's not a boring guy. But try to set some of it aside, and we agree on this, he is a great writer.


David Schaafsma david wrote: "Great review, David. I never understood Hemingway's life. Everyplace I have ever travelled to, he has preceded me. He drank quite a bit and roamed around, as you stated above. When did he have time..."Hem was 62 when he shot himself. The rep he had as drinker and womanizer was earned and as true as his rep as hunter, fisher, and so on. But he woke every morning at 6, worked on correspondence, then wrote five hours straight until noon. Every day. And wrote a lot of books, as a result.


message 7: by david (new)

david So, the moral to the story is, "Smoke 'em if you got 'em.'


David Schaafsma david wrote: "So, the moral to the story is, "Smoke 'em if you got 'em.'"Always.


David Schaafsma David wrote: "david wrote: "So, the moral to the story is, "Smoke 'em if you got 'em.'"Always."And know how to fold 'em.


message 10: by Doc. (new) - added it

Doc. David wrote: "Thanks, S, and yeah, I read that article. I also read the beginning of a book that focused less on his boozing and womanizing than on his depression, which was useful. I also just recently took a l..."

Yeah, an unheard of spin, but what stood out for me was this line: "Hemingway was a master not of a realized stoicism but of a wounded epicureanism." You've captured that here. I'd say "barely contained emotions" is a great three-word description of his style, but I suspect the Hemingway app would ask me to reconsider the adverb! ;)


David Schaafsma S. wrote: "David wrote: "Thanks, S, and yeah, I read that article. I also read the beginning of a book that focused less on his boozing and womanizing than on his depression, which was useful. I also just rec..." Yeah, that's a good line. Literary reputation shifts dramatically, over the years, I find, but especially for Hem, who is adored and reviled and mostly reviled now, but I feel the shift coming back. I live in Oak Park, Illinois, though, where one of our national Hemingway festivals are held each year (with Hem lookalike contests, and so on). He grew up here and a Hem museum is here, so you have to consider that the deification of Hemingway happens here constantly. There is an eternal flame and shrine outside Oak Park High School! Which he sort of hated, I think! Last year Tim O'Brien (The Things They Carried) came here and gave a great talk on him and on the collected stories.


message 12: by Aren (new) - rated it 4 stars

Aren LeBrun Solid review, thanks!


David Schaafsma Aren wrote: "Solid review, thanks!"Thanks, Aren!


message 14: by HBalikov (new)

HBalikov Your personal connections add a lot to this fine review, David!


message 15: by Julie (new) - added it

Julie David,
This review was lovely for me. It's funny. . . I'm originally from the Miami area, so, growing up, I associated Hemingway with the Florida Keys and Cuba. As I got older and started my lit program, I thought of him in terms of the works I studied, largely his European experience in the war. As a young, newly engaged woman with a sister recently relocated to Idaho, I gave more thought to the end of his life and visited his final resting place in Ketchum, ID. He was definitely a man who got around! I'm excited to read this collection and read about his experiences in the mid-West.


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