A Moveable Feast – 4/5
This is kind of a memoir by Hemingway, one that he was working on before he died. It’s not complete, but according to the editorial notes by one of his sons and grandsons, it’s close. This edition undoes some of the more confusing and intrusive decisions from the original publication in the 70s when Mary Hemingway was presiding over the book, which includes her basically writing one of the chapters herself. But the material cut from that edition are presented here, and the material cut from the other edition is presented here as appendices.
What stands out most here is Hemingway’s opinions and relationships with other writers. Primarily he is deeply sympathetic toward Sherwood Anderson and Scott Fitzgerald, reverent of Gertrude Stein, and openly contemptuous of Ford Madox Ford.
Ford comes off worst in Hemingway’s estimation because he’s a much better writing than Anderson and significantly more prolific than Fitzgerald. Hemingway also clearly hates Zelda Fitzgerald whom he views as a kind of snake in the grass.
He’s most reverent of Stein whom he truly believes was breaking new ground in her writing, especially with her associative fiction like Tender Button in which she draws connections between very unlike things. He also tells us that her famous quote about the lost generation was actually one she and Hemingway hear a mechanic make but then she adds the “there” to it by turning it more metaphysical. This is an interesting, if limited look at an important figure, writing about himself.
Signed Picpus – 3/5
One of the better of the Maigret books I’ve read, in that the mystery itself is so solid and bizarre. A funny connection from reading A Moveable Feast is that Simenon is one of the writers that Hemingway talks about reading and enjoying while he was in Paris.
Anyway, here a medium is murdered and a small old man is found in her apartments, though it doesn’t seem like he was involved as the scene itself is quite bloody, and the man is not. It turns out that the man is a brow-beaten husband and father who has been regularly escaping from his homelife to be in the company of the medium either for readings or an affair. It also seems like there’s a lot more perhaps going on behind the scenes that we don’t yet understand.
The mystery of course centers around the death of the medium but also in a clue provided at the scene of who the murder is in a note that is “Signed, Picpus”. Picpus is not the name of a person (and I am not spoiling here) but the name of a road in the town, but it’s connection is a mystery that plagues everything.
Like I said, even in trying to not spoil the mystery I’ve given away a lot, but what I haven’t fully captured is how weird this novel truly is, if you were to read it.
The Man Who Lived Underground -4/5
This previously unpublished novel was expanded from a short story that Richard Wright did publish that had previously been reduced down into the short story form. I think it lives better in the novel form for a few reasons. The novel begins with a black man working in the yard at his job as a handyman for a white lady. He’s approached by three police who threaten him, question him, cuff him, and arrest him. He doesn’t understand what’s going on, but the reader understands well enough. He’s being actively implicated in a murder he didn’t commit. Apparently someone murdered someone in the house next door to the lady’s house and the police are pinning it on him.
They harass him and abuse him over the course of many hours until he finally signs a confession (again, he is innocent) in order to get them to stop. He begs them to take him home to see his wife and in the ensuing chaos he runs away and finds his way underground to a kind of hiding place. While he’s there and hiding out, he becomes to move away from the idea of societal constraint, specifically by stealing whatever he wants and needs and even devaluing specific things like gluing dollar bills up as decoration.
He starts descending into a kind of madness and eventually the way he sees himself further deteriorates until he basically doesn’t feel like he has identity except in connection to the crimes he’s been accused of. And so, he makes his way back to the police in order to turn himself in.
The novel is a great reminder for all the ways it feels like Kafka or Nabokov or Orwell, you don’t have to use any fantasy whatsoever to make a dystopian novel. Just narrate the actual lived experience of someone facing oppression.
Horse Crazy -3/5
A short novel written amid the New York City AIDS crisis (and this is from 1990 or so, so amid means amid), as our narrator, a writer who has just gotten a staff job writing for a magazine is dealing with what it means to look for love in the chaos of the time. It’s a raw and often weird and funny book, and one that pulls no punches.
Vernon Downs -3/5
A truly strange little novel about a character who becomes more and more obsessed with a enfants terribles type novelist. It begins with a young man, who is taking writing classes at Glendale Community College follows a girl to a conference at an East Coast liberal arts university for a summer writing program. While there, there’s a bit of a shadow in their connection in the shape of the college’s most recently famous alum, a novelist who has become a controversial figure. It’s the mid 1990s so if you guessed the novelist was either David Foster Wallace, Bret Easton Ellis, Douglas Coupland, or Jay McInerney, you’d be right. Well specifically, it’s so clearly Bret Easton Ellis even if the references are very very very slightly veiled. They’re so thinly veiled they’re not even oblique.
Anyway, what ends up happening is that the girl goes away but the obsession with the writer remains and turns real when he meets him, convinces him he’s an up and coming writer (kind of true) and even begins impersonating him at times. If you see some mirroring with American Psycho, well, you’re wrong, because that novel is called “The Vegetable King” in this one. Regardless, this book often reads like a kind of multi-verse version of real life with alternate titles and other details changed. This book has some good writing at times and an interesting, if bizarre plotline and actually might have been pretty good, had Bret Easton Ellis written it instead. I assume he didn’t.