HEMINGWAY: A Life Without Consequences by James R. Mellow

HEMINGWAY: A Life Without Consequences

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By now, any Hemingway biography is built as much upon the scaffolding of its predecessors as upon the writer's life itself. Hemingway's own story, in fact, must be more familiar generally than the stories of his works. A differentiating idea or two is necessary--and Mellow (Invented Lives, 1984, etc.) has them. Portraying Hemingway neither as the man of action nor as the complete boor that other biographies have (and that sometimes have seen themselves pitted in competition with Papa), Mellow's Hemingway is a man superbly equipped for literature by having the greatest understanding of style; and a man haunted by what human ambiguities aesthetic style suggests--Mellow finds Hemingway's relationships with men, his homophobia, his failed marriages, as hardly accidental. Along this double fork, Mellow proves himself one of the more respectfully keen analysts of why Hemingway was so good a writer in his earliest works: There is fine lit-crit here in addition to all the dates and facts (""At his best, Hemingway is a poet of convergences, providing moments of sudden reality, of some deflected vision--an epiphany, perhaps--not altogether recognized or understood, that is nevertheless transfixed in narrative""). Mellow understands writing enough to know that its demands can make any person both more and less than he is; his book lacks a moralistic rancor that others, faced with Hemingway's bad character, have not been able to forfeit. But this is perhaps also because he finds so convincing the suspicion that Hemingway's manliness was the moat desperate of his fictions: There is, in the way Mellow places his biography's structural emphases, a certain lenient pity for a man who might have clone and been better had he come out of the closet. It's a tactful, unpushy thesis but unmistakable, and makes Mellow's book different from its fellows.

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1992
Page count: 688pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin