I once had a Hemingway Year. I started the year in Tanzania studying field biology and reading Hemingway out of the Arusha library. A couple months later I was in Europe reading more Hemingway out of another library. My timing was good and I hitchhiked to Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls (La Feria de San Fermin).
My interest in Ernest Hemingway led me to Michael Atkinson’s first novel, Hemingway Deadlights. I enjoy books where the author fictionalizes the lives of writers whose work I know.
Atkinson picks up with Hemingway in 1956, years after the wars and Hemingway’s life in Europe. The US is heavy into Cuba, Castro is an outlaw, and there are vestiges of the McCarthy-era paranoia. Hemingway is on his fourth wife, Mary, and staying at his home in Key West while Mary waits for him in Cuba. The wave he rode after winning the Noble Prize in Literature for The Old Man and the Sea is waning and Hemingway is writing sporadically, drinking heavily, and breaks his leg when he falls of the roof while shooting at a gecko.
When a casual friend of Hemingway’s is murdered, the local officials pay little attention. Hemingway, with his wariness towards authority, assumes clandestine issues are afoot. With this premise, Atkinson creates Ernest Hemingway: murder investigator.
Early in the book, I found Atkinson’s portrayal of Hemingway to be overly bumbling and absurd. For example, Atkinson wrote, “Hemingway leapt. Too far, as it happens – like a flying squirrel, the man’s khaki-dressed, potbellied frame soared narrowly over the top of the tree, immediately beyond which lay a rock garden, rose bushes, and more cement.” Hemingway is too real a person for me, the detail and ridiculousness of the tone fit more with the behavior of Janet Evanovich’s character, Stephanie Plum, than author and adventurer Ernest Hemingway.
Atkinson stopped trying to remake Hemingway as the character got into the murder investigation. There was [amazonify]0312379714[/amazonify]Hemingway’s drinking and womanizing and the self-confident behavior grounded in a lifetime of machismo, adventure, and notoriety. It was enjoyable to be transported to the nascent tourist mecca of Key West where Hemingway was dining at Sloppy Joe’s and taking a ferry to Cuba. The Hemingway character finally felt like Hemingway.
With Hemingway Deadlights, Atkinson has written an entertaining novel both for Hemingway fans and for others who are not familiar with his work. The character finds himself in situations that draw upon the Hoover-era energy of distrust common at the time. Hemingway meets Castro and Che, has problems with a variety of feds, and is threatened by shadowy underworld figures. I found lots of references to the Hemingway life the world has been aware of, and to events and attitudes that created Hemingway’s voice. I look forward to reading Atkinson’s second Hemingway novel, released earlier this year.
To learn more about Hemingway Deadlights, please visit Michael Atkinson’s website.
Joanne is an organization development and human resources professional with a business background living in Ohio. She has lived in Europe, Africa (including her Peace Corps service in South Africa), and arround the United States. She loves to plays volleyball, read, write, and has a cat named Ender.
This book was provided free of any obligation by Michael Atkinson. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.