Consultation No. 4 – With Papa Hemingway

 

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With some trepidation I knocked at Ernest Hemingway’s door and waited. And waited. Had I waited much longer I would have left, knowing his short fuse with reporters and lesser writers. With research we had found that the rap on Papa was that he was incredibly knowledgeable on a wide number of subjects, that he might regale me with some longwinded thing about fishing. And if he’d been drinking he was Henry VIII incarnate. All of our misgivings proved of no consequence, though; he’d been writing and, of course, not drinking.

He walked on the veranda, a glass of vermouth and crushed ice in his hand, a Panama hat perched back, and actually a bit earthy with his native aroma. He’d been fishing, as it turned out, and cleaning fish with a couple of his favorite crewmen. We shook hands, he smiled, and after a few icebreakers, our brief interview began.Throughout our brief time there, we found him cheerful, engaging, and helpful to this blogger. Until I mentioned passionless writing.

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GF – We’re doing a series on modern novelists writing without passion, and –

EH – Passion? Writing without passion? Jesus, man, how is that even possible?

GF – We’re in an era that’s been dubbed postmodern. And in this era, you see, technique rules.

EH – No shit! And is there some school these writers go to to learn this?

GF – Yes. There are hundreds of writing programs out there now, and technique is the main thing they’re taught.

EH – My god. I was being ironical in asking that.

GF – Well, sir, that’s the writing life these days, and –

EH – People buy this claptrap? And don’t say sir to me. I’m not a politician or a banker. Everybody here calls me Papa.

GF – In dwindling numbers, yes. But if we could return to the subject of passion…

EH – Papa. Say it.

GF – All right. Papa. (At this point a young woman appeared, whispered something, and left. He quickly informed me that a journalist from Cuba was waiting and asked if we could cut the talk short.) Can you give me, quickly then, your views on passion in the novel.

EH – Damn right I will! Send these kids to war, and if not war, send them into the seediest parts of any town and make them live there for a year, two years, as long as it takes for them to get it through their highly educated heads that that’s where passion is. On the battlefield! In the ghettos! In fact, how the hell do they have any stories without seeing how man treats his fellow man? Christ, what do you have out there, a bunch of Scott Fitzgeralds?

GF – The last few minutes of his response were profanity-laced, little of which would have contributed to passion in writing. I didn’t tell him I speak a little Spanish, and as I left, he was ranting to the Cuban journalist about the nincompoop that had informed him that writers in his era were putting out passionless writing. And people were buying it!

 

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Peering Through Zelda’s Eyes

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Z – A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler

 

Have you ever wondered how the Lost Generation seemed through the eyes of a wife of one of those famed male writers? Therese Anne Fowler apparently did, and took up Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald’s cause in the process. By previous male accounts, Zelda was rambunctious, opinionated, and deeply vulnerable, and Fowler’s fictional accounting of Zelda’s life does little to counter that image. What the author does do is dig deeper into the relationship between Zelda and the Sayre family, between Zelda and Scott, and between this most famous wife of that arty bunch and Hemingway, whose writing pushed this Paris crowd into the public’s consciousness.

Zelda is of Alabama aristocracy, her father a prominent Montgomery judge. She’s a pretty girl who enjoys ballet and Southern society but who is shanghaied by handsome Northerner, Scott Fitzgerald. This doesn’t sit well with the Sayres, but Zelda, as Fowler writes of her, doesn’t really care. Off the couple go to New York, where they’re married, spend Scott’s money lavishly, drink too much, have a daughter, Scottie, and end up in Europe after two of Scott’s novels are published. There they stay, drinking and fighting, both deteriorating under the effects of overabundant alcohol, Scottie shuttled from one caretaker to another. After Zelda’s long, exhausting stay in the care of European psychiatrists, the family returns to the U.S. Then more hospitalization for Zelda while Scott parks himself in Hollywood writing movie scripts.

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Besides this chronicling of a troubled literary family, the author takes on another project here: depicting an emerging feminist movement in Europe and the grip male attitudes had on women, particularly the wives of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Her writing is well done for the most part, blemished only by occasionally bland dialogue – the product of lack of strong narrative support. I wondered halfway through how Fowler would handle Zelda’s mental deterioration, but that facet of Zelda’s life was managed dazzlingly well. While this book is fiction, and while much of what’s been written of the Fitzgeralds is admitted to be contradictory, this is a valuable addition to the legend of the Lost Generation.

 

My rating 17 of 20 stars

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

 

The Great Gatsby – The 2013 Movie Version

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Okay, I’m a movie fanatic, I admit it. I own ’em, I watch ’em multiple times. Odd for a writer to be so fascinated with the silver screen, you say? Not really, I think. The novel – and the short story  – have evolved over the years, and while story’s the thing (most of the time), and while characterizations are the all-important glue to both long and short fiction, literature and cinema have been drawing ever closer.  But to Gatsby.

Perhaps even more so I’m fascinated with the era of F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s great novel of social disparity, money, greed, fame, and decadence-built-on-false-morality received a cool reception by reviewers when the book came out; it bared the myths and exposed the seamy side of position, fame, and wealth. Not a welcome literary approach in the free-wheeling  pre-Great Depression U.S. of A. But that didn’t keep it from being re-made for the moviehouse.

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The first version was a silent film made in 1926, and based more on a stage adaptation than on the novel. The movie guys tried again in 1949 (post-World War II – happy days are here again…get it?) a black-and-white version with Alan Ladd Betty Field, and Macdonald Carey in the lead roles. But perhaps the most revered version was the 1974 issue with Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, and Sam Waterston, which gave us glam and suavity over reality. Each of these versions missed (or scrupulously avoided) Fitzgerald’s main point altogether, preferring to give the affluence-worshipping U.S. public glamour with only a whisper of the aforementioned seedy underbelly. It’s only with the 2013 version (Jay-Z as executive producer) that the book gets an honest cinematic rendition.

Here, we see how the rich (literally -yes, I mean literally) run roughshod over the poor, how money corrupts in an almost innocent progression, how the poor always seem to bear the  burdens and the crimes of the rich on their own backs. The subtler message  in this 2013 version (as we try to slug our way out of a second Great Depression) isn’t in the corruptive influence of wealth; rather that realty, position, and fame really solve little, that these seeming panaceas are burdens in themselves.

If you see this version of Gatsby, you may not like it, in the same way that Fitzgerald’s reviewers didn’t like the book initially. If so, watch it again. And again. You’ll eventually get its uncomfortable but essential message.

 

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Romance and Relevance

I've been remiss in posting on movies the missus and I have seen this holiday season, so this will be the first of a cinematic hat trick.

We've both liked Woody Allen movies for years, although it seems at times he's left his movie mojo in the garage. Still, we figured, there'd be moments in Midnight in Paris that would make the price of admission worthwhile. 

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image via filmofilia.com

We were right. This one is vintage Woody, although now he's letting a surrogate play his part – in this case Owen Wilson. The premise is partly Woody-as-he's-always-been and part Woody-as-senior-citizen. Meaning: Were the "good old days" really that good? To examine this idea, he allows his alter ego, Wilson as a screenwriter named Gil, who wants to be a novelist, to travel at various midnights back in time to see if things were really as romantic in the 1920s (and farther back) as those times seem now.

Gil meets, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein, Toklas, and others and is appropriately in awe of them. There is romance – in the here-and-now as well as then – and both, like Gil's romantic superimposition over that romantic age, erode under ever-closer examination.

What lies beneath Woody's whimsy is a question: With the romance of the eras through which Gil travels suffering from loss of their rosy glow, does it mean the work these artists and writers spent their lives expressing will lose its artistic relevance?

We won't know – perhaps our children's children will – but with a sly wink, Woody seems to be asking the same of his age, his own work. As always, he gives us amusement, relevance, and something to take home and think about. The casting is topnotch, characters from Toulouse Lautrec to Hemingway look the part, and almost all play their parts well. Perhaps Kathy Bates is the weakest casting – for Gertrude Stein – but you can't help liking her anyway.

My rating: 17 of 20 stars