Thursday, August 25, 2016

Book Review: The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories by Ernest Hemingway

The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories by Ernest Hemingway

Ten short stories by Ernest Hemingway fill this book with intrigue and excitement:

1. The Snows of Kilimanjaro--A man's man faces his mortality at the foot of Africa's tallest mountain, Kilimanjaro. He's with his wife out hunting and drinking and loving. Unfortunately, he scratched his leg and didn't take care of it. Gangrene has set in and he pretty sure he will die before the plane gets back to take them to safety. The man has dreams or reminiscences of his past, especially of the more important lovers and events in his life. He's a writer and the memories would have made great stories, but is it too late to write them down? The story is the sort that needs to be read twice to get the most out of it, though it is fascinating enough with just one read.

2. A Clean, Well-Lighted Place--Two waiters get close to very profound issues as they wait up till the last bar patron finally leaves. A surprising amount about the characters' attitudes is conveyed in five pages.

3. A Day's Wait--A slight story of a sick child and his father. The ending reads more like a punch-line to a joke. The story is entertaining but not deep.

4. The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio--Mr. Frazer is a patient in an American northwest hospital. A Mexican gambler is brought in with several gunshot wounds and is not expected to live. A nun working at the hospital prays for him, just as much as she prays for the Notre Dame team to win their football games ("They are playing for Our Lady," she reasons). They all look for some transcendence or perfection in their lives but are unable to attain it. The story more poses the question why they can't than provides a pat answer, making it some intriguing food for thought.

5. Fathers and Sons--A father and son are on a car trip when the father remembers his strained relationship with his own father and significant times from his childhood. I didn't really care for this one.

6. In Another Country--A Milan hospital provides care for maimed soldiers with the latest equipment that will supposedly undo the damage of crippling injuries. Nick and a few other characters deal with their injuries and their future. The story is a tough look at hope and despair.

7. The Killers--Two assassins show up at a diner waiting for a certain customer to come in. They have the look and speech of noir criminals (e.g., black trench coats with hats and calling guys "pretty boy" in a derogatory way). Their mark never shows up; when the one customer goes to warn the mark, his reaction is surprising. This story is the sort of hard-edged noir that inspires someone like Quentin Tarantino.

8. A Way You'll Never Be--Nick is wandering around Italian battlefields (it's the same guy from #6, I think) and meets up with an Italian officer he's pals with. Nick tries to pass himself off as an American soldier sent to bolster the local troops with the hope of more Americans to come and turn the tide of the war. But how many screws are loose in Nick's head? This story is only sort-of intriguing to me, the ending wasn't as sharp or dramatic as I'd have liked.

9. Fifty Grand--An aging boxer goes for one last fight. Can he make some money, keep his dignity, and not get beat to a pulp? The story's plot is practically a genre unto itself. The main character has enough heart and grit to make this a compelling story.

10. The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber--Francis is on safari with his wife. They have a comfortable tolerance of each other that's shattered when things go poorly during a lion hunt. The situation just about destroys Francis. The twists and turns in the story are interesting and kept me riveted.

Overall, the book provides some interesting ideas to chew on. Hemingway's straightforward style is sparse on interpretation, so readers are left to draw their own conclusions.

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