Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Sun Also Rises (again)


I'm now on a Hemingway jag after having bought into the prevailing stereotypes about this work for too many years. ("Good stylist, too obsessed with manliness.") What an eye-opener to re-engage with this novel without allowing the expert opinions to tell me what to think of it.

This is a masterpiece that I somehow neglected the first time I made my way through it. I don't think I actually read it; maybe I turned pages. Nobody assigned it to me, but I guess I assigned it to myself as a book I was "supposed to read." I rushed through it. That was longer ago than I care to admit. This time around I was more patient, and approached it not only as a reader, but also a writer. Now after finishing it properly I still find myself distracted by it, dazed by its beauty, eloquence, and authenticity. Describing the plot here is pointless and probably unnecessary. Gertrude Stein's devastating line about Hemingway's crowd in Paris is all the plot summary you need: "You are all a lost generation."

I won't give away the final line, either, but I will say I had forgotten it, and that it floored me. By the time I reached it, I had been wondering how in the world he was going to wrap this story up convincingly. Mission accomplished.

There are devastatingly honest portraits here of love misguided, and aching, beautiful scenes of life not quite getting off the ground. There is also great craft. Turn to any, and I do mean any, page of this book and study the sentence and paragraph construction. It is waterproof from beginning to end.

This is more than a great novel; it's a master class in specificity, metaphor, the timeless conveyance of human emotion, and the art of making dead-on perfect choices about the right level of detail. As with other truly great books, I shudder to think how much work must have gone into it. If you love good writing, or aspire to it, you need to read this.

Bottom line: This book is the real deal, and a non-negotiable must read. Saying Hemingway is too focused on a masculine perspective is a little like saying Anne Tyler focuses too much on how women think and act. Possibly true, but so #$%@ing what. Take the ride.