Monday, July 20, 2009

Hemingway's A Moveable Feast New Edition Book Review

This book is Ernest Hemingway's reminisce about his life in Paris in the 1920s and the literary figures he knew, such as Gertrude Stein, Ford Maddox Ford, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It was left unfinished at the time of Hemingway's death in 1961 and originally published in 1964, edited by his fourth and last wife, Mary. This new "restored" version presents the same book as re-edited by Hemingway's grandson Sean.

The original book is a highly-regarded literary work of art, leaving open the question of why the world needs a new version. The one and only advantage is the inclusion of new, previously unpublished chapters included after the main text, called "Additional Paris Sketches." Anything new written by Hemingway is always welcome.

The problem is Sean Hemingway's editing and the motivation behind it. In his Introduction, he would have us believe Mary somehow wrecked Hemingway's vision of the book and he has now reshuffled the chapters to reflect what his grandfather would have really wanted. Forty-five years after the original publication, Sean writes with what seems to me unusually strong venom at Mary and what he sees as her agenda in making her edits: "The extensive edits Mary Hemingway made to this text seem to have served her own personal relationship with the writer as his fourth and final wife, rather than the interests of the book, or of the author, who comes across in the posthumous first edition as something of an unknowing victim, which he clearly was not." Sean needed to provide some sort of rationale for the new edition, and this is what he would have us believe: the original book reflected Mary's wishes, not Ernest's.

But since the manuscript was left unfinished when Hemingway died, no one knows what he really would have wanted. There is no "definitive" edition and never can one be. Even worse, Sean can well be accused of the same sin as he asserts for Mary: his edits are designed specifically to paint his grandmother Pauline Pfeiffer, Hemingway's second wife and his own grandmother, in a far more favorable light. Readers and scholars can compare the two editions and judge for themselves: is Sean protecting his grandfather's true wishes--whatever they were--or is he doing a favor for his own grandmother at the expense of Hemingway's conception? Sean dug around in the archives and found some things that look good for his grandmother, included them, and rejiggered the original contents in her favor as well.

The good news surely must be that the various heirs of Hemingway can't destroy his work, no matter what their motivations. The text is still the work of one of the 20th century's greatest and most influential writers. Most readers won't need the new edition, as the original, as literature, hasn't really been improved upon. Scholars and Hemingway fans will want to see the new sketches. Probably 45 years into the future, a "scholar's" edition will be published, sans any input from the various heirs of Hemingway, in an attempt to "set the record straight."

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Clockmaker by Georges Simenon (Review)

Dave Galloway is a watch repairman in the mythical city of Everton, New York. His life is one of familiar routine—he goes through the same motions every day at work and at home. But this comfortable existence is unexpectedly thrown into chaos when Dave’s 16-year-old son Ben runs away from home. We learn that Ben has left with 15-year-old Lillian Hawkins and they plan to get married in Illinois, which recognizes marriage between young teenagers.

While Dave reflects that Ben has abandoned him, we learn that Dave’s wife had abandoned him as well, when Ben was just one year old. The story takes an uglier turn when police break the news that Ben has shot and killed someone and taken his car. While the police chase Ben, the news media interview Dave and he agrees to pose for pictures and answer all their prying questions.

Soon, Ben is captured by the police after a shootout and is taken to Indianapolis. Dave travels there only to suffer more embarrassment when Ben refuses to see him and the police tell him they are moving Ben back to New York and he traveled to Indiana for nothing.

Dave hires an expensive lawyer for Ben, who since his capture has expressed no remorse for his crime, seems proud of what he has done, and acts as if he wants to sit in the electric chair. A psychiatrist evaluates Ben and determines he is sane and can stand trial.

While these events transpire, Dave examines his own mind to try to discover some sense to Ben’s crime, which seems completely pointless and unnecessary. Much of the novel has Dave retracing the signal nerve points of his own life in an attempt to extract meaning from Ben’s actions—his own father’s one night of cheating on his mother; his own decision to marry the cheapest woman in town who had already slept with all his friends; and now Ben’s murder of a stranger for his car and a few dollars. All three of these events were solitary acts of “rebellion” by three men of the same genetic line who otherwise spent all their lives getting ”whipped” in life. Unsatisfied, they needed to temporarily revolt against their own nature. The question is left at the end whether this cycle would turn in the other direction in the future.

The Clockmaker, also published in English as The Watchmaker (first published as L’horloger d’Everton in French in 1954), is a psychological thriller written without Simenon’s most famous character, Inspector Maigret. Only 124 pages, it can be read in a few sittings. Simenon forces the reader to consider if Ben’s actions were already somehow foreordained; the culpability, if any, of his father; and if the similar psychology of Dave, his father, and his son, will change or remain the same in future generations. The New York Review of Books has reissued a number of Simenon’s novels in recent years and this would make a fine addition.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

My Twitter Account

Here is my Twitter account.