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Trip to the Hemingway House Revives Interest in Classics

The Hemingway House in Key West, FloridaI’ve never been a huge Hemingway fan, but I’m planning to go back to some of his classics.

A visit to the Hemingway House in Key West, Florida, inspired me to think again about the writer I long ago dismissed as too macho for my tastes. The bullfighting put me over the edge.

On the other hand, I do recall emulating his spare style while I studied fiction writing in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. And I do mention Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants” in my forthcoming novel, “Only Wild Plums.”

And his house and garden: Oh, my! That veranda! Those cats with their abundance of toes. I looked at a black-and-white photograph of a series of headstones, and read a caption below noting that Ernest Hemingway buried all his cats and dogs. I knew he couldn’t be as macho as I once imagined. He had a heart for his pets.

And his wives, I trust. His many marriages also turned me off the writer, but I listened as the tour guide introduced the three Hemingway women whose portraits hung together in the museum house. The name Hadley Hemingway stuck in my imagination.

Then one of my fellow Book Babes picked “The Paris Wife” as our club’s read-of-the-month. I’m almost finished with the book, and I’m understanding Papa in new light. The author, Paula McClain, presents readers with a fully drawn character in her novel, and my sympathies lie both with Hadley and with Hem.

With about 30 pages to go, I can’t help but think ahead to what I know about Ernest Hemingway’s life and death. And what sticks in my craw is that maybe Hadley would have reigned as Mrs. Hemingway had she not lost those manuscripts so early in the marriage, so early in the novel.

Maybe only another writer would fully understand the depth of despair that unfortunate incident must have caused the poor writer.

With deepened sympathy for Hemingway, I now appreciate him more knowing that he was not only a hunter and a fisherman, but also an alpine skier.

Once I finish “The Paris Wife,” I’d like to pick up a copy of “The Old Man and the Sea” or “A Moveable Feast.”

Hemingway seems new again, thanks to a peek into Hemingway’s home and studio and Paula McClain’s page-turning novel of which I cannot help but think Papa would approve.


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Titanic: Saga of hubris floats the boat of many artists

Like many writers, the tragic history of Titanic’s sinking made waves on my imagination.

I first learned about Titanic as a child in elementary school. I remember the story sparking something in my young mind.

In later years, when I learned the meaning of the word “hubris,” Titanic resurfaced in my mind as a clear tale of deadly pride: The proclamation that Titanic was unsinkable seemed to me as deadly as the iceberg that brought the ship down in the cold North Atlantic.

Last weekend’s commemoration of the centennial of Titanic’s sinking inspired a host of creative endeavors ranging from performances of music played on Titanic to readings from “A Night To Remember” by Walter Lord to screenings of Titanic films.

The ship’s maiden voyage forever leaves in her wake a shared grieving.

In the mid-90s, I watched an IMAX film about discovering Titanic, and the documentary struck me again, inspiring a scene in my forthcoming novel. In this scene, Dugan Larkin and his girlfriend are on a date as they watch the film.

An excerpt from Only Wild Plums: Chapter Seven: “The Smell of Icebergs” follows:

“We retreated to the air-conditioned darkness of the IMAX Theater to watch a documentary about Titanic. As the opening frames rolled, I leaned over and whispered, “Titanic was a ship, by the way, not a boat.”

“Shh,” she said.

I leaned forward in my seat as I listened to the narrator. I learned that just before the invisible, mountainous remnant of a glacier on the starboard bow sliced Titanic in two, the night watchman in the crow’s nest that moonless night smelled icebergs.

I held Cam’s hand and my breath, watching the deep-sea footage of all that uncorked, vintage champagne leftover from that celebrated maiden voyage. Far below the daggered surface of the cold North Atlantic, the ship’s china remained unbroken, place settings strewn randomly on the sandy ocean floor. Partying passengers dropped ice chips from the blue berg into their cocktails served on the deck that night before she went down.

In the documentary, an elderly woman interviewed in an old stone church in England related the tale of boarding Titanic with her parents; her small, black dog, and her large, brown teddy bear. The film included vintage black and white photographs of the privileged girl and her prosperous parents, including several in which the family dog stared at the lens, eyes large with expectation.

In the end of the chapter, Dugan decides to sail beyond his fears about commitment to marriage and children. As he winds down his narration, he feels not entirely safe, yet willing to proceed into the unknown; and his last line is, “I smell no icebergs.”

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