ISLANDS IN THE STREAM by Ernest Hemingway


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As seems increasingly apparent to most of us, Ernest Hemingway was richly endowed, but he spent his genius long before he died. Across the River and Into the Trees was an embarrassment while he lived, and now, with Islands in the Stream, his posthumously published novel, we have a sad bequest indeed. His wounded giants, floored by fate or nada, love or war, once had his celebrated "grace under pressure," symbols of the lost generation, participants in pastoral myths smeared with the blood of the hunt or of battle, yet sophisticates, drinking and wenching, determined to be true, in a world of deceit and wretched idealism, to "the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion." it was a heady creed, engendered by history, nourished on character and circumstance, but it could not last. As Hemingway grew older, his experiences narrowing, his fame widening, image-making set in with insidious allure: he began to drift, floating along through echoes of past triumphs, the later works, even The old Man and the Sea or A Moveable Feast, seeming more and more the sum of his fantasies about himself. Thomas Hudson is the middle-aged hero of Islands, painter and expatriate, resident of Bimini and Cuba, shadowy survivor of affairs which turn "rotten" or of gorgeous memories, who kisses "hard and well." He has his code and his comrades, "the brave and the good," and loses his three sons (the two youngest in a gratuitous car crash, the oldest, an R.A.F. pilot, during the Second World War). Alone and stoic and inconsolable, he courts death heading a patrol boat scouring the Caribbean for "Krauts," feeling at last the engines coming "through the deck and into him," his friend Willie saying, "Oh shit, you never understand anybody that loves you." Hudson has a period flavor, a whiff of the museum, as does, with its meandering, mannered style, the book as a whole. There are moments of lyric concision, snatches of faultless description, a breathtakingly accurate re-enactment of a fisherman's ordeal, the old greatness glimmering now and again, all the more piercing, perhaps, when surrounded by so much that's stale and worn.
Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 1970
ISBN: 0684837870
Page count: 378pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1970


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