Monday, September 17, 2007

Hemingway short stories — Part 3

Read Part 1, Part 2. Once again: these posts will contain SPOILERS. You have been warned. :)

“The Three-Day Blow”
Picking up in the aftermath of Nick’s breakup with Marjorie, he visits Bill (who makes a brief appearance at the conclusion of “The End of Something”) at his father’s homestead. They talk about the weather, literally, about baseball, about literature (with high praise for G.K. Chesterton, of all people). But when Bill brings up Marjorie, it’s clear that Nick really regrets the breakup. He “holds it in reserve” that he might get back together with her, but once they go outside, the gale blows all Nick’s worries and “feelings” out of his head (or heart). It’s a classic Hemingway situation where men aren’t supposed to have real feelings — or aren’t supposed to voice them, anyway. Are Nick’s regrets really gone, or will they be back as soon as the “three-day blow” is over? (The accompanying chapterlet is also set in the rain.)

“The Battler”
Nick is train-hopping across the country in this story, asserting a growing independence, it would seem. After getting thrown off a train, he meets Ad Francis, a famous (but now washed-up) prizefighter: the battler of the story’s title. Nick and Ad chat around a camp fire, and a little later, Nick meets Bugs, the “negro” who takes care of Ad, now that Ad can’t quite take care of himself. They met in jail, and Bugs took a liking to him. They eat a sort of “hobo feast” around the fire, after which Ad gets a bit riled up at Nick (earlier, Ad admits of himself that he’s gone a little crazy), and Bugs has to club him over the head with a blackjack to calm him down! He explains Ad’s situation: too many fights and a tragic, failed marriage to his “sister” (the story leaves ambiguous the question of whether it’s really his literal sister). Bugs is really a very kind caretaker, reminding me a little of Jim from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (and there the similiarity ends, as Ad is nothing like Huck).

“Chapter VI”
In this chapterlet, it seems to be revealed that these may all be Nick’s war reflections. At least, this one appears to be.

“A Very Short Story”
Short indeed! About the wishful, ephemeral connections made during war time and what follows in their wake after they’ve come apart.

“Chapter VII”
A nice ironic statement about the promises we make (to God, in this case) when face to face with our own mortality, and how we almost never make good on them when come through the experience alive.

“Solder’s Home”
A remarkable story. This one doesn’t revolve around Nick Adams. Rather, the protagonist is one Harold Krebs. The image of the photograph at the beginning — what a great detail, the kind that a successful short story can be built on! It shows just how impossible it is to capture a moment the way we feel it, and how likely we are to mythologize or romanticize it in our memory. And it prefigures how everything will be different when Krebs comes home from the war. The history books he reads about the war fascinate him, as if he weren’t there himself! As if he learned nothing first-hand — and he probably didn’t, because he was “badly, sickeningly frightened all the time.” His mother worries about what he’ll do with his life now that he’s come home — alive, at least, but not unchanged. She even convinces Kreb’s father to let him take out the car at night, hoping he might start to date, maybe resume a normal life. Kreb’s is emotionally regressing back toward a fumbling adolescence, aborted when he went to war. And now that he is back, he’s in the grips of an ennui so pervasive that he does nothing all day but watch the girls go by. Just watch them; he won’t ask one out. He just alternates between watching the girls go by and reading history books about the war. It’s very sad to see how emotionally devastated Krebs is. We want to hope he can recover, but we know that he probably won’t.

“Chapter VIII”
This is the first of the chapterlets that isn’t a picture of war. Rather, this one centers on an image of urban violence, crime, and racism. It’s still not completely clear (yet) what readers are to make of these interludes.

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