Mooers (J.P., 2013, etc.) returns to historical fiction, this time following 19-year-old Ernest Hemingway, who comes home from war and struggles to readjust to life in the civilian world.
Working from a plethora of sources, including some Hemingway anthologies, Mooers reconstructs day-to-day details of the two years between Hemingway’s return to Oak Park, Illinois, after having been seriously injured in World War I, and his departure for Paris, where he would eventually become part of the Left Bank expat crowd of artists and writers. Still in pain from the leg injury he suffered while working as an ambulance driver on the Italian front, he came home with many of the 277 shell fragments embedded in his leg and groin, still “working their way up to the surface.” He also experienced frequent flashback memories of the explosion that almost cost him his life. Today, we might say he had PTSD. On top of this, he received a breakup letter from Agnes von Kurowsky, the nurse who tended to him in Italy and then became his lover. Depressed and rudderless, young Hemingway decided to devote himself primarily to fishing the rivers and streams of Walloon Lake near Petoskey, Michigan, site of their family summer home, christened Windemere by his mother. Encircled by a coterie of devoted friends, among whom he was a star, he regained his confidence (some might say arrogance) and embraced his status as a local war hero and fledgling writer. An adept stylistic chameleon, Mooers often approximates the cadence made famous by his subject. By Mooers’ own admission, there are “parts where I use the actual words spoken, the actual words written, or the actual scene as it happened,” so the text—with help from its 26-title bibliography, sans citations—becomes a sort of treasure hunt for Hemingway devotees looking to uncover the verifiable quotations. For the rest of us, it’s simply a solid story that conveys the uncertainties and the contrasting hubris of a young man wracked by memories of the war while on the cusp of a phenomenal literary career.
A generally well-written narrative covering the less-frequently chartered years during which Hemingway first displayed flashes of the man he’d become.