After reading (and very much enjoying) Tim O’Brien’s Dad’s Maybe Book, I had to go back to my Hemingway library. O’Brien feels so strongly about Hemingway that he makes his young boys read his stories over and over, trying to discern meaning from some very ambiguous plot lines and characters. The Old Man and the Sea remains a favorite, along with The Nick Adams Stories and a number of other short stories. Several other of his books, I tried but struggled with, and I’d never read The Sun Also Rises. But here’s the thing about timing: there may have been a time in my life that I could well appreciate Jake (the narrator) and his friends Bill, Michael, Robert, and the Lady Brett Ashley as they travel around Paris and Spain drinking, eating, watching bullfights, and falling into a drunken sleep night after night. They are the “lost generation,” the post WWI crowd disillusioned by post war life. But in his sparse prose (for which Hemingway is famous and for which at times, I’m appreciative, though at others, I’m annoyed by its choppiness), Hemingway does not show what they are disillusioned by; instead, he shows 250 pages of vapid conversation.
And in this year of 2020 where Covid-19 has decimated people’s lives and The Black Lives Matter movement has demanded changes in our structures and our thinking, I found it difficult to hang out in cafe after cafe throughout Spain and France listening to superficial conversations among these five characters. So…perhaps this was a bad time to embark on Hemingways’ first novel. Even so, I find many of his other characters far more compelling than this group of 1920s ex-patriot partiers.