A worshipful homage to Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961).
Only the most ardent apostles of Hemingway, his era, and his oeuvre will find total satisfaction in this book. Katakis (A Thousand Shards of Glass: There Is Another America, 2014, etc.), steward of Hemingway's literary estate, and his guest essayists make much of the journalistic immediacy and chronologies of Hemingway's letters, just one element of Hemingway memorabilia housed at the John F. Kennedy Library. Unfortunately, the early examples are banal, and many of the later letters are uninspiring. Some readers may feel voyeuristic reading painfully personal letters from Hemingway to his family, various wives, and romantic infatuations and peevish or apologetic missives to fellow writers. One would think that correspondence between Hemingway and the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Sherwood Anderson, and Maxwell Perkins might bristle with vitality, but these letters are largely unremarkable, and they are assembled in an oddly disjointed, out-of-sequence manner. The same is true of many of the photos, with the young Hemingway depicted on the same page as the man years older. While often evocative and revealing, the photos as a whole seem to have been selected with insufficient regard for illustrative value, like a family album or slapdash celebrity picture book. Katakis dismisses the “myth of Hemingway, some of which he created himself,” as “too simplistic,” yet he succumbs to it at points throughout the text. The narrative contains little sense of continuity apart from the editor's attempt at connective tissue: setting the important years of Hemingway's life in the context of other political and literary milestones. Otherwise, until coalescing in the final third, the book caroms about in time and place.
A fine essay by Susan Spanier and a cleareyed post-mortem on Hemingway written by John Steinbeck in 1961 are highlights of a book that should have managed more resonance.