A splendid view of Papa and his beloved boat Pilar.
“You know you love the sea and would not be anywhere else,” wrote Ernest Hemingway in Islands in the Stream. In 1934, already the “reigning monarch of American literature” for The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms, he bought a 38-foot motorized fishing vessel at a Brooklyn boatyard and set out for the Caribbean. “Mr. H. is like a wild thing with his boat,” wrote Pauline, his second wife. An integral part of his final 27 years, Pilar offered afternoons of solace on waters between Key West and Cuba, during which Hemingway fished, drank, wrote, bickered with wives and sons and entertained visitors. A former Washington Post feature writer and winner of a National Book Critics Circle award, Hendrickson (Nonfiction Writing/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Sons of Mississippi: A Story of Race and Its Legacy, 2003, etc.) offers a moving, highly evocative account of Hemingway’s turbulent later years, when he lost the favor of critics, the love of wives and friends and, ultimately, his ability to write. Drawing on interviews, documents (including 34 Pilar logs) and secondary sources, the author succeeds in restoring a sense of Hemingway the man, seen as a flawed, self-sabotaging individual whose kindness and gentleness have been overlooked in accounts of his cruel and boorish side. Even as he attacked critics and fired his shotgun angrily at sea birds, the tortured author proved remarkably sweet and friendly to many, including Arnold Samuelson, an admiring young writer who became Hemingway’s assistant on Pilar; and Walter Houk, now in his 80s, who remembers the author fondly as “a great man with great faults.” Seven years in the making, this vivid portrait allows us to see Hemingway on the Pilar once again, standing on the flying bridge and guiding her out of the harbor at sunrise.
Appearing on the 50th anniversary of Hemingway’s death, this beautifully written, nuanced meditation deserves a wide audience.