On Hemingway’s Short Stories

One of my summer reads has been The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, a 650-page gathering of 70 stories that I finished on Monday afternoon. Hemingway has long been one of my favorite writers. I’ve read four of his novels, along with the collection In Our Time. I’ve taught “Hills Like White Elephants” probably 2 dozen times. “Soldier’s Home” I’ve taught 3 times in my war-literature class.

When I read a collection and/or an anthology, I make two types of marks in the table of contents. A check mark indicates that I’ve read the piece, and a dot or a star means I like it a lot. Of these 70 stories, only 11 did not earn a “star.” It’s strange because I enjoyed the some of the “unfinished” and previously unpublished stories the most. Of course, there were stretches in the book were there was just one great story after another, and at different times I told my wife, “I can’t believe how good these are.”

Having spent weeks with these stories, I can say that my admiration of his craft has not diminished but has only increased. And the whole shtick about how he only writes simple and compound sentences is a crock. (I realize that not everyone critical of Hemingway makes this accusation, but I’ve heard or read it enough to know it exists.) There’s a sophistication to his style that I find commendable. I’m also drawn to the way he uses dialogue to advance the story, develop character, provide subtext (among other things the dialogue does). Both he and Carver have helped me sharpen my dialogue-writing skills.

Reading through these stories, I was struck by the way he kept using Nick Adams as a character. (I am aware that there’s a volume called The Nick Adams stories.) Readers glimpse Nick in various scenarios at different points in time, and because I have a recurring protagonist who appears in 12+ stories, I found it instructive how Hemingway “built” the character of Nick across these different stories.

In an earlier post, I talked about my reading of 200+ stories last summer, including collections by Ray Bradbury, Raymond Carver, Phil Klay, and Larry Woiwode. I’m not sure that I’ll reach that number this summer although I’m sure I’ll read at least 100. I can’t get through novels like I used to. There’s something I find so satisfying about reading well-written short stories, my favorite genre to teach, read, and to write.

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