notes from
the MUCK . . .

How does your garden grow? With muck, muck and more muck! I spent much of today finishing the final muck box and then shifting muck from one box to the next. The first box, which the Big Lad is enthusiastically pointing out, has been rotting down for two years now and once we’d removed the top quarter of unrotted material, we found we’d hit the pay dirt.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Ernest Hemingway Wore Khakis

The Lost Generation. It must all come down to that. For the life of me, I can't figure out what else I'm supposed to take home from The Sun Also Rises. Sure, there's Hemingway's anorexic style, which I've experienced before in his short stories. This was the first of Papa's novels that I've read. Unfortunately, after much deliberation, I'm afraid I'm going to have to throw some Haterade at this one. Set me straight if you can. You know where to leave your comments. On to the book:

First of all, I can't abide bullfighting. It's barbaric and wrong. To read Hemingway's hypocritically reverent descriptions of the beasts and their slaughter leaves me nauseated. It's a big part of the book, and a big part of why I didn't like it. Sue me.

Second of all, there's the apparent pointlessness of it all. Have I missed something? This is where the "lost generation" comes into play. That was the phrase given by Gertrude Stein to the post-war expatriots who desperately searched for culture and meaning in a changing world. In The Sun Also Rises, their search is fruitless. Most of the time Hemingway's characters are either drunk or complaining. No one is happy. The closest anyone seems to get is when they reach out and connect with Nature, as if civilization can no longer offer any real fulfillment.

As an exploration of this disillusionment, The Sun Also Rises deserves nothing but praise. The precise, simplistic prose is perfectly suited to the shallowness of its characters, and often times the most powerful sentiments lie in what isn't said. This was the genius of Hemingway, right? I think I get that now. What I don't understand, however, is how this book has remained relevant (or maybe it hasn't, I don't know). What I do know is that there is nothing in the book, aside from the style, that surprises or enlightens me. I guess it just feels dated to me. What Hemingway and his peers seem to lament, I simply take for granted. A sad truth, yes, but an unavoidable one. The societal ideals of pre-World War I America are so far removed from everything I have experienced in life, I wonder why the brats in this novel haven't adjusted. I find myself wanting to reach into the book and shake the characters by their shoulders while yelling "grow up already!" Of course, my adaptability to a "things fall apart" environment surely grew out of the cultural contributions made by the likes of Stein, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. Perhaps at the time of its publication, The Sun Also Rises was partly responsible for illuminating a Zeitgeist no one yet fully understood. I'm not saying it was never a great book - I just think it loses its impact on a modern reader. This is in stark contrast to the first two books on my reading list, Don Quixote and Darkness at Noon, both of which feel posses a timeless quality missing from The Sun Also Rises.

I'm not giving up on Hemingway. As I said, the style and execution of the book is brilliant (despite a number of Dick and Jane type descriptions of hills and trout). There are certainly other works of his that I might be able to engage with on a more meaningful level. On the other hand, I find myself wondering why I hold such an unpopular opinion about this book. Seriously, if anyone can shed light on aspects of the novel that I just didn't get, let me know. The whole point of this project is to learn, and I've got to maintain an open mind in order for that to happen.

Next up: Rabbit, Run by John Updike