Reading along with my daughter and her AP English class, I picked up another that I have missed. Twenty six years ago as a high school senior, I read For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms and wrote a terrible senior research comparing characters. I had nothing to say, and no idea how to say it. Mr. Dyrud, who’d had my brilliant sister and brother before me, said, “This is very disappointing. I was expecting so much more,” as he handed it back to me. In truth, it was a B (not terrible, I guess), but I knew it was bad without him having to be disappointed. Ever a people pleaser, I just wanted him to be pleased. At that point, becoming an English teacher wasn’t within a million miles of my plans.
How did I get here?
I digress. This is supposed to be a book review, but I must finish w/ Bell and Arms. I loved Bell. Robert Jordan was cool and I felt like I knew him. The romance and tragedy of the Spanish Civil War moved me. I was set to head out and fight fascists myself at a moment’s notice. I was unimpressed by Arms. I didn’t get Frederick Henry. The things he would say and do made no sense to me. In my essay, I was supposed to compare these guys for eight pages. I used lots of quotes, and have fond memories of a week’s worth of late nights in my parent’s basement with Mom’s manual Smith-Corrona clacking away. There were moments when I felt like I was saying something. There were other moments when I’d carefully type, “Ibid.” Good memories, but it’s no wonder it took me 26 years to Return to Hemmingway.
I’d have to say that Sun kind of falls in with Arms. Hemmingway’s style is detatched and journalistic, and I had a hard time connecting with Jake Barnes. Also 87% of the book seemed to be descriptions of drinking, with occasional eating thrown in. The whole expatriot scene was foreign. All of these Americans and Brits are unhappy and hang out together even though they disliked each other intensely. And where did they get their money? I guess this was Hemmingway’s point. They were the Lost Generation (thank you Barnes and Noble synopsis).
I know Jake got his wang shot off in the war, and that he and Brett might have been happy if this had not been the case, but they both were pretty pathetic. I suppose I was a little in love with Brett. How could I not be when everyone else was?
I did enjoy the characters of Bill and Romero. Bill was just a terrifically funny drunk. He says, “Road to hell paved with unbought stuffed dogs” and “I’m fonder of you than anyone on earth. I counldn’t tell you that in New York. It’d mean I was a faggot.”
Romero was just a terribly interesting figure. Like everyone else, I wanted to know how he got into that green bull fighting suit.
Finally, the fishing and bullfighting were fascinating. In these cases, I appreciated the dispassionate but detailed way that Hemmingway presents things. Jake never acts like he’s excited about these things, but the detail in which he presents things says otherwise.
Anyway, I wouldn’t mind passing around a five liter leather wineskin sometime with some Basques and feeling tight.