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Not Hemingway's Best
am 30. Mai 2000
I read this in high school about twenty years ago, and recently decided to revisit this work. I think this is an important thing to do. As our lives change, quite often the meaning of great books change to us also, and we can gain an even richer experience. I am sorry to report that this is not the case with this novel. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, I would suggest that this book is a long way from resembling the great canon of work that is Hemingway's.
Now don't start screaming yet. Please bear with me. To begin with, don't we seem to have a rather idealized version of our hero's girlfriend? She is blonde, slender and beautiful; falls in love with him immediately; and without any complications. Every time she is with him, everything is just "grand." Isn't this just a little too perfect? We know she is Scottish, but what else? She has no brothers, sisters, or mother and father that we know of. What indeed, is she doing in Italy, other than simply being available? She's not much of an idealist. After all, it didn't take much convincing for her to leave the war, just as our hero did. Who is she?
For that matter, what about Mr. Henry? He is an American fighting in the Italian army as an ambulance driver during World War I. Yes, I know this is true of Hemingway's life, but as fiction, we need more clarity. Isn't this a little unusual? Why is he there? He never explains. He's there, he gets wounded, he fights again, he gets sick of it, he leaves. Even more annoying, his family always seems to send him money when he gets in a jam. The perfect out. Who are they, and why do they do this?
Even worse is the contrived ending. I won't give away the details, but wow, he sure comes away clean. As George Carlin said in a comedy routine: "Boy, you ARE a good sport!" It is a bit much.
Don't get me wrong. Hemingway was a great writer, and there is a lot of good stuff in here. His relationships with the Italians and his description of the retreat ring true. But there is too much missing for this to be considered a great novel on its own. If you want the best of Hemingway, you have to go further. Start with "For Whom the Bell Tolls," if you don't believe me, or any of the hundreds of great short stories he has. Even this one is a very good read. But remember, he wrote it at the tender age of 30, and clearly, his best work was yet to come.