Happy Birthday, Ernest Hemingway

Remembering Ernest Hemingway as “Papa” fishing in the streams was changed for many, including myself, by Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife; Woody Allen secured that image in the movie, “Midnight in Paris.” Today is Hemingway’s birthday.

Julie Bosman notes in her New York Times article – To Use and Use Not – that a new edition of A Farewell to Arms has just been published with Hemingway’s 39 (or maybe 47) different endings for the book –

“… an attempt to redirect some of the attention paid in recent years to Hemingway’s swashbuckling, hard-drinking image.”

You can decide if he “got the words right.”

Hemingway spent his winters on a farm in Cuba from 1939 to 1960, writing Across the River and Into the Trees (1950) and The Old Man and the Sea (1953), which won the 1953 Pulitzer prize; he also won the 1954 Nobel prize for literature.

If you are among the Americans planning to travel to Cuba to connect with the culture – the newest place to tour – this might be a good time to revisit Hemingway’s legacy.

Related Article: Review of “The Paris Wife”


The Queen’s Lover

Not everyone can meet the high expectations Hilary Mantel raised for historical novels. In Francine du Plessix Gray’s fictionalized history of Marie Antoinette’s Swedish lover, Count Axel von Fersen – The Queen’s Lover – the history outshines the fiction.

Although historians cannot agree on the extent of intimacy in the relationship between the Swedish aristocrat and the famous French Queen, the rumors could provide the basis for the possibilities that Gray creates. The Count is historically famous for fighting in the American Revolution and for his escape plan for the imprisoned French royals, which fails. Gray uses letters written by the Count and by Marie Antoinette that have been recently recovered, and the letters are sometimes more compelling than the fictional prose. Despite the drama of the beheading, Marie Antoinette’s final letter is the focal point.

As an education into the details of the French Revolution and the backstory of royal intrigues, the book offers a tedious accounting, and the connection between the imagined and the real never quite connected for me. I think I’ve been spoiled by Hilary Mantel.

Review of Mantel’s: Bring Up the Bodies

Amanda Cross – The Collected Stories

As an academic, Carolyn Gold Heilbrun was a Guggenheim Fellow, a Senior Researcher at the National Endowment for the Humanities, President of the MLA (Modern Language Association), an English professor at Columbia University, and author of texts as well as a biography of Gloria Steinem, but most fans of her mystery stories know her as Amanda Cross, creator of fictional sleuth and English professor Kate Fansler.

Although she kept her identity secret from her colleagues, Cross used her erudite characters to reveal the cynicism inside the ivy-covered walls – and maybe get a little quiet revenge. The Kate Fansler mystery series started in 1964 with The Last Analysis and ended in 2002 with The Edge of Doom.

In 1997, Heilbrun had promised herself to not write fiction until she finished her memoir – The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty. But Kate would not be denied, and a series of short stories emerged – written by Amanda Cross and published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery magazine and other collections. “The Disappearance of Great Aunt Flavia” caught my eye, the name reminding me of that perspicacious eleven-year-old star of Alan Bradley’s mysteries. Cross has her elderly Flavia saving the residents of Merryfields nursing home from an unscrupulous television evangelist of The Divine Church of the Air who traded heaven for their money. Cross offers ten short mysteries in this collection; you can dip in anywhere.

With her academic background and reluctance for using her real name when writing outside the Canon – colleagues can be brutal critics –  Cross has a special appeal for me.

Next, I’m revisiting her Death Without Tenure.  Have you read any of her books?

Related posts: Flavia de Luce mysteries

Heading Out to Wonderful

When Charlie Beale drives into a sleepy Southern Virginia town in 1948 with two suitcases – one  full of money and the other with “a set of butcher knives, sharp as razors,” he’s ready for a fresh start after the war in Robert Goolrick’s Heading Out to Wonderful.

Goolrick lulls you into the bucolic small town setting with descriptions of the land and the people.  Despite the stifling community where everyone knows everyone’s business, Beale settles into the good life, buying some land and eventually a house, getting a dog, and befriending Sam, the five-year-old son of his new boss, who owns the butcher shop in town.  The ladies appreciate Charlie’s good looks behind the meat counter, and the men like his skill at playing ball with the young folks.  Looks like Charlie may have found his niche.

The story changes when Beale meets Sylvan, the young beautiful backwoods wife of the town’s morbidly obese and richest man, Boaty Glass.  Using Sam as his cover, Charlie begins an affair with Sylvan, and the beautiful couple seem to be in love – until Boaty finds out and the story takes a dramatic turn.

Goolrick is a master of settling the reader into a simple commentary on the lives of his characters as they mosy through life, and then suddenly switching them into life-threatening trauma.  Just as in A Reliable Wife, Goolrick’s first novel, lustful scenes and deceit play key roles, along with poverty and abuse – with suspenseful twists that will keep you reading.

If you haven’t read A Reliable Wife, check out my review – here

Steinbeck and Chocolate Covered Sausages

English: A Baby Ruth candy bar split in half. ...

Since one of my book clubs is meeting to dissect Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, I wondered what an appropriate sweet snack might be to motivate the discussion.

Ideas from the pages:

  • The Seer gets arrested when he escalates from stealing one Baby Ruth or Mounds candy bar to three from the Safeway;
  • Elegant Joe bakes a cake with marshmallow topping;
  • Doc sprinkles chocolate over sausages.

Took the easy way – Baby Ruths and Mounds but decided to play it safe and buy them.