The snows of Kilimanjaro and other stories.

Ernest Hemingway – The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories (2003, Scribner).

I’m making it a point to get around to reading some of the classic writers and books that I’ve (so far) missed out on  – it’s going to be a never-ending task, but it’s one I’m certainly looking forward to!

I’ve always been intrigued by anything I’ve heard about Hemingway’s life; after reading just a handful of his short stories, I get a feeling – as I hoped I would – that he wrote exactly what he felt, exactly what he was thinking. No candy-coated stuff here, no gloss or glitz. His famed writing style was so economical that it sometimes seems choppy and abrupt: in stories such as “The Killers” I sometimes had to reread certain passages twice to determine who exactly was speaking – but the snappy, violent dialogue serves as the action and creates a perfect, crackling tension. In “In Another Country,” the thoughts and muddy recollections of Nick Adams’ injured mind are rendered in the same truncated language, highlighting the extent of his illness. And in the title story, the combination of intense, terse dialogue between the dying hunter Harry and his wife is interspersed with absolutely sumptuous passages comprised of Harry’s scattered memories:

How many winters had he lived in the Voralberg and the Arlberg? It was four and then he remembered the man who had the fox to sell when they had walked into Blundenz, that time to buy presents, and the cherry-pit taste of good kirsch, the fast-slipping rush of running powder-snow on crust, singing “Hi! Ho! said Rolly!” as you ran down the last stretch to the steep drop, taking it straight, then running the orchard in three turns and out across the ditch and onto the icy road behind the inn. Knocking your bindings loose, kicking the skis free and leaning them up against the wooden wall of the inn, the lamplight coming from the window, where inside, in the smoky, new-wine smelling warmth, they were playing the accordian.

Indeed, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” may be the best story in this particular collection: the relationship between Harry and his wife is bitter, sweet, and terrible, and Harry’s examination of the colossal regrets in his life exposes his flawed, completely human nature. Along a similar vein – exploring the dynamics between men and women – is the dramatic and surprising “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” with its out-of-the-blue, crazy-perfect ending.  The realistic development of character seems to be the driving force in Hemingway’s stories: the people that populate this book (even those confined to the slightly bizarre hospital-ward sideshow in “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio”) all suffer whatever conflict they’ve been plunged into with utterly human emotion. It’s all genuine: there are no daring rescues, no superhuman efforts, not a single breath of the fantastic. In some cases, even, the set-up is so simple it makes you crack a smile: the little boy’s anxiety at having a high fever in “The Day’s Wait” comes to mind.  In others, such as the partly autobiographical “Fathers and Sons” (in which Hemingway touches on the subject of his father’s suicide), Nick Adams’ feelings of loss and anger are genuinely devastating to the reader.  It’s easy to relate to these characters when they are so believable and real. 

After just this brief glimpse into his work, it’s not difficult to see why Hemingway remains such a celebrated writer, and why his style has had such an impact and influence on those who have come after him. 

*** 

There is a 1952 movie based on the story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” – it stars Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward.  In addition to reading some missed classics, I’m also attempting to watch classic films that I’ve overlooked, so this will be on the list of priorities.  Has anyone seen it?  Post a mini-review for me!  🙂

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