A Writer’s Escapades

Ernest Hemingway: A Writer’s Life
By Catherine Reef
(Clarion Books, New York, 2009, $20.00)

By the time Ernest Hemingway was thirty, he had been an ambulance driver, a war hero, a successful journalist, a bohemian in Paris, a bullfighting expert, and the husband of two women. Over the next thirty-one years, he embraced deep-sea fishing and big-game hunting, married two more women, and participated in the Spanish Civil War. In between these exploits, Hemingway wrote novels, short stories, nonfiction, and even poetry with varying degrees of commercial and critical success. But Hemingway was no jack of all trades, master of none: his minimalist style, widely imitated during his lifetime, still influences fiction writers today. 

In Ernest Hemingway: A Writer’s Life, Catherine Reef explores both Hemingway’s adventures and his writing career. She traces his lifelong preoccupation with death and violence to his boyhood hunting trips with his father. Reef introduces readers to his all-star cast of literary friends: Sherwood Anderson, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Ford Maddox Ford, John Dos Passos, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Readers also encounter the real-life inspirations for some of Hemingway’s most famous characters and stories. To create a balanced portrait of Papa Hemingway, as his friends called him, Reef includes anecdotes that illustrate his spiteful, competitive nature, as well as his bouts of generosity. Papa sometimes parodied his friends’ writing in his own work, and he wasn’t above stealing top reporting assignments from his third wife, journalist Martha Gellhorn. Yet, Hemingway was a loving, if indulgent, father to his three sons, and he adopted numerous stray cats as he aged.

Catherine Reef has crafted an unusually entertaining and unhurried profile of a larger-than-life figure. With thoughtful discussions about writing and ideas, Ernest Hemingway is an excellent introduction to Hemingway’s life and work for both teens and adults interested in literature.

© Dorothy A. Dahm

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