Sunday, September 23, 2012


Okay, could someone please explain to me the draw of Hemingway.  I just finished reading a Nick Adams short story called "The Killers" and absolutely nothing happens.  I mean two killers walk into a diner, they tie up the cook and Nick in the kitchen, and have the owner turn all the customers away while they're waiting for their target.  And nobody fights back.  Not one customer who's turned away suspects anything wrong.  And when the man they're sent to kill doesn't show up - nothing, they just leave the diner without any violence or threats.

Maybe it's because I just finished reading "Blossom" by Andrew Vachss and started "The Body Lovers" by Mickey Spillane.  The pages of both books are full of action, great descriptions and wonderful dialogue.  Things that don't exist in "The Killers".

So what is it about Hemingway that I'm missing?  Is it wrong to not be impressed by one of great American writers?


Charles Gramlich said...

I really like Hemingway a lot, but he's certainly not a high octane writer. On the other hand, I've just not been able to read Spillane, although I do like a lot of action.

Hemingway also wrote a lot of stories and not all are equally good or interesting in my opinion. "The Killers" and "The Hills Like White Elephants," which are both highly rated by critics, are overated if you ask me.

On the other hand, I thought "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" were masterpieces. They are not high octane pulp type stories but they really had an emotional impact on me.

Part of it, for me, is that I really like Hemingway's style. I just get absorbed in it, while Spillane on the other hand jars me out of the story at every turn with something that read, to me, as a clunky phrase.

sandra seamans said...

Glad it isn't just me, Charles. I tried to read The Hills Like White Elephants years ago and I remember it was like pushing through a dense jungle. I'll have to try the stories you suggested and see if my opinion changes.

I'm still deciding if I like Spillane. I tried I, The Jury and just couldn't get into it. I read one of his later books, Black Alley, and enjoyed that so I thought I'd try again. The later books seem to have a more settled Hammer.

Logan McHenry said...

I'm a fan of Hemingway and you're right that "nothing happens", or at least nothing seems to happen, in a lot of his work. The climax of The Sun Also Rises is a fist fight between two peripheral characters. My favorite short story of his, The Three-Day Blow, is about two boys talking over a bottle of whiskey. His prose lacks overt action, but there's a lot lurking underneath. I think he has a knack for expressing without explaining things, and he portrays loneliness and the pain of being human in a poignant, subtle way--that's why I like him.

Heath Lowrance said...

Logan nailed it. The "action" in Hemingway's stories happen internally, and his great strength was making you FEEL what the characters felt without overtly spelling it out. His stripped down prose style was terse and direct and unsentimental, which was perfect for the kind of stories he wrote.
Writers like Spillane (who I kinda like, so don't get me wrong) make the reader get used to having it all spelled out for them, so reading Hemingway could be a little jarring after that.

pattinase (abbott) said...

And the Nick Adams stories are his best for me. I don't get always get him either. And talk about a misogynist.
But sometimes he nails it like no one else.

sandra seamans said...

Welcome to the Corner, Logan. And yes, I could see what he was trying to say, but I live in a world where men would have acted. I think that's what bothered me the most about the story, especially from Hemingway who was such a man's man. The characters just didn't feel real in this story.

I think I most sympathized with Ole Andreson, the man the killers were looking for, Heath. Like you said, I could feel his despair - knowing he'd done the wrong thing and had to pay for it. I just couldn't understand the inaction of his friends.

I guess I'm going to have to find more of his stories, Patti. Everyone seems to have different favorite story. Perhaps it all boils down to relating in some way to the characters in his stories. Which I haven't done yet.

David Cranmer said...

The Nick Adams Stories, A Moveable Feast, and The Old Man and The Sea do it for me. And Charles and Logan explained it perfectly.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

Here is a must read piece on "Hills Like White Elephants", POV, and those things lurking below the surface of Hemmingway's best writing.

Thomas Pluck said...

The Killers is like Anton Chigurh not killing the shopkeeper after the coin flip in No Country for Old Men. We're witnessing someone dodge fate, briefly. And seeing the ugliness beneath the surface of daily life.
I agree that "Macomber" is probably his "best."
I think Hemingway can be infuriating because he's trying intently to tell the story as minimally as possible. Without action, with just nuance and character and with the simplest words possible, with some sort of poetic zen journalism. It doesn't always work for everyone. And he is very stingy with POV sometimes. In Macomber, he even gives us the lion. In Hills, we get zilch.
Killers, I forget. I think we get very little.
He's not for everyone and it's not about sophistication or putting the work into understanding him. He is certainly misogynist, and damaged in other ways.

Chris Rhatigan said...

Hemingway seems to divide people.

I love The Killers and Hills Like White Elephants--really all of his short stories but those two are standouts.

Two things I love about The Killers: the menace brewing under the surface and how Ole Anderson has just given up and accepted his fate.

Moreover I love that no one in the diner reacts to anything. It's deliciously fatalistic.

sandra seamans said...

Sorry for the disappearing act, folks. I had my three year old grandson today. He frowns on computer time when it cuts into his sitting in Grandma's lap and being read to time. :)

thanks for the link, Brian, I'll check it out.

I think that's part of the problem with literary writers, Thomas. Some of them are more concerned with style than story. I read McCarthy's "The Road", but the lack of quotation marks around the dialogue nearly drove me mad, especially when half of them were there thanks to a line editor.

Now see, it was the lack of response in the diner that made the story feel unreal to me, Chris. I've worked in a diner and there's no way two men with guns are going to walk in and not get some kind of response. But then maybe things were different back when the story was written.