MISADVENTURES OF A FLY FISHERMAN: My Life With and Without Papa by Jack Hemingway


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As the eldest son of ""Papa,"" Jack Hemingway has obvious advantages as a biographer. Yet even the firsthand reminiscences here lack energy and conviction; the result is the weakest Hemingway book to appear this year. The title suggests the main problem: the book's force is scattered by Jack's vacillations between biography, autobiography (there are cameo appearances by Jack's famous daughters Muffet, Margot and Mariel) and impassioned recollections of his first love--fly fishing. Although left with mother Hadley upon Papa's defection, Jack says he harbored no resentment against his father--and that neither did his mother. (She always said she felt as if a great weight had lifted from her shoulders when he walked out.) Jack also seems to have gotten along well with the subsequent women in his father's life--except his last wife, Mary Hemingway. He goes into few details, but it is clear that Jack blames Mary for the medical mismanagement of Hemingway's final illness (he shot himself after dispiriting and traumatic ""treatment"" for depression at the Mayo Clinic), and also for the cruel omission of all three sons from Hemingway's final will. There are a few touching moments here. Jack describes a mid-50's visit to his father in which he confessed to serious depression. (A paratrooper in WW II, Jack had great difficulty readjusting to peacetime, and was a near-total failure as a securities salesman.) Papa took this seriously, saying: ""Schatz, the one thing you must promise me you will never do, and I will promise the same, is that neither one of us will ever shoot himself, like grandfather. Promise me and then I'll promise you."" Says Jack with poignant understatement: ""So I promised. And then he promised."" Apart from such brief flashes of feeling--and reading between the lines, it's easy to see why Ernest Hemingway's eldest learned early to keep his feelings about Papa at a safe distance--this is a thin book that never quite comes alive as personal history and that's a bit murky as to documentation of Jack's conclusions about his father's final years.

Pub Date: May 20th, 1986
Publisher: Taylor Publishing