Hemingways Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934 - 1961
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From a National Book Critics Circle Award winner, a brilliantly conceived and illuminating reconsideration of a key period in the life of Ernest Hemingway that will forever change the way he is perceived and understood.
Focusing on the years 1934 to 1961—from Hemingway’s pinnacle as the reigning monarch of American letters until his suicide—Paul Hendrickson traces the writer’s exultations and despair around the one constant in his life during this time: his beloved boat, Pilar.
We follow him from Key West to Paris, to New York, Africa, Cuba, and finally Idaho, as he wrestles with his best angels and worst demons. Whenever he could, he returned to his beloved fishing cruiser, to exult in the sea, to fight the biggest fish he could find, to drink, to entertain celebrities and friends and seduce women, to be with his children. But as he began to succumb to the diseases of fame, we see that Pilar was also where he cursed his critics, saw marriages and friendships dissolve, and tried, in vain, to escape his increasingly diminished capacities.
Generally thought of as a great writer and an unappealing human being, Hemingway emerges here in a far more benevolent light. Drawing on previously unpublished material, including interviews with Hemingway’s sons, Hendrickson shows that for all the writer’s boorishness, depression, and alcoholism, and despite his choleric anger, he was capable of remarkable generosity—to struggling writers, to lost souls, to the dying son of a friend.
We see most poignantly his relationship with his youngest son, Gigi, a doctor who lived his adult life mostly as a cross-dresser, and died squalidly and alone in a Miami women’s jail. He was the son Hemingway forsook the least, yet the one who disappointed him the most, as Gigi acted out for nearly his whole life so many of the tortured, ambiguous tensions his father felt. Hendrickson’s bold and beautiful book strikingly makes the case that both men were braver than we know, struggling all their lives against the complicated, powerful emotions swirling around them. As Hendrickson writes, “Amid so much ruin, still the beauty.”
Hemingway’s Boat is both stunningly original and deeply gripping, an invaluable contribution to our understanding of this great American writer, published fifty years after his death.
would say that of all her parents’ famous friends from the twenties and thirties—and the unfamous ones as well—it was Hemingway who’d paid the closest attention to her and her brothers, who’d seemed to care for and understand each of them as if they were his own. In late summer 1932, the Murphys, save for Patrick, who was too frail to go, had joined Hemingway and his family for two weeks at the L-Bar-T Ranch in Wyoming. Hemingway, who had to catch more rainbows than anybody, who’d recently
appears: “I felt guilty about Mother’s inheritance, thought that since I had killed her it was blood money, and I got rid of it incredibly fast. My marriage finally broke up and I was drafted into the army.” On the page before this: “I shot eighteen elephants one month, God save my soul. But it’s no use running when you’re sick, because when you finally stop, you find you’re just as sick as when you started.” Such beautiful ellipsis. It was apparently somewhere in here—mid-to-late 1955, maybe
Nelia Real of the Key Biscayne Police Department drew up in her cruiser, Gigi was on the curb trying to put on a flowered thong. A few minutes before, a park ranger named Nelson Mompierre had noticed him stumbling along, north on the boulevard’s southbound lane. When the police officer got out of her car, Gigi was sitting down, as if pooped, or possibly trying to get his bearings. He was grinning. From Officer Real’s typed report: “Mr. Hemingway (defendant) had he/her genitals (Mr. Hemingway is
The founder made an arrangement with his creditors, though, and stayed in business; part of his brilliance. In 1921, there was a terrible fire. He had no insurance. But since he had nowhere to go but on, he borrowed money, mortgaged whatever else he had, convinced an acquaintance to stake him. For the next several years, the Wheeler company—essentially the Wheeler family—built and sold rowboats and small sea skiffs. In 1924, the yard exhibited its first boat in a national motorboat show—a
have gotten a recent haircut—possibly last week, before coming across. He’s at ease, but isn’t there something poised, ready, almost coiled? Between the older man and woman, as if he could be their son: the luck-struck apprentice with the porcupine hair, from the Twin Cities via White Earth, North Dakota. Up in the States, a midwestern heat wave has taken 206 lives in three days. Tomorrow, John Dillinger, ace badman of the world (as the pulps like to say), will buy it on the sidewalk outside a