Oh Papa

Oh Papa

Figure 1: How I Feel While Reading Hemingway


So I’m slogging through this Hemingway for graduate school and it’s not going well. It’s very boring to me, which makes me avoid it. It’s The Sun Also Rises.

I have to finish it by April 25 so I can write a paper about how Hemingway informs my own writing – I know, I know! – and it’s just murder. All this drinking and fishing and descriptions of the landscape. All these people talking to Jake Barnes and Jake Barnes being rather tight-lipped. He has some broken-dick thing from a war injury, you see, which makes him taciturn and quite the drunk.


I’m noodling along through this particularly boring passage about fishing in Spain (“I laid them out, side by side, all their heads pointing the same way, and looked at them. They were beautifully colored and firm and hard from the cold water…”), when comes this part, a conversation between Jake and this guy Bill (who’s Bill supposed to be? I dunno. People come in and out and more wine is ordered and then they leave or go dancing and it’s swell and everyone gets ‘tight’ and people say ‘Don’t be sore’ and maybe it’s F. Scott Fitzgerald and who cares):

“You’re right there, old classmate,” Bill said. “The saloon must go, and I will take it with me.”
“You’re cock-eyed.”
“On wine?”
“On wine.”
“Well, maybe I am.”
“Want to take a nap?”

FREEZE. Okay, who else is getting a super duper huge gay vibe here? Also, there are no dialogue tags which make me want to scream, because the dialogue’s so opaque. Also, yes, you can get drunk on wine, Jesus. Just because it’s girly doesn’t mean two bottles don’t have alcohol in them. Back to the excerpt:

“All right.”
We lay with our heads in the shade and looked up into the trees.
“You asleep?”
“No,” Bill said. “I was thinking.”
I shut my eyes. It felt good lying on the ground.

AGAIN! Couldn’t we totally segue into some prime, manly gay sex here? It would be so natural. Smelling of fish and wine and the basket lunch they’d had. Right? Wouldn’t that be great? Didn’t F. Scott once show Hemingway his wang to ask if it was the proper size to please Zelda? It all flows like the Irati River!

But no. The passage moves into Bill asking some questions about Jake’s English lovahhhh Lady Brett Ashley, whom he cannot, er, love properly, because of his unspeakable-dick-problem, which, naturally, is the only thing in this book I can give a shit about. Jake’s dick problem is the main suspense driver in a book about drinking and fishing. Is that right?

I feel that I must be pawing on well-traveled ground here. That digging on Hemingway this late in the game is probably a bit lame. But I’m SUFFERING through this so hard! I have no context for respecting the story. And I’ve seen bullfights and they’re horrible, so that part holds little thrill. I’m just at the part before the unleashing of the Pamplona bulls. I’m betting they’ll watch the bulls and drink. Scintillating.

Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me it’ll be worth it. Make me a YouTube video called Hemingway: It Gets Better.




  • Lab Rat on Apr 11, 2012 Reply

    your gay-dar has never worked.

  • Carrie on Apr 01, 2012 Reply

    You’re right, Ela. Last year, I discovered that while I love Nabokov, that dude does not inform my writing, because…he’s Nabokov! I had really little to say except to gush about how funny Lolita was to me, and how his turn of phrase was delicious.

    I’ve been taking an ‘eat your vegetables’ approach to the books I’ve written about this year, and it’s been mostly good, but this one has SUCKED. I don’t have a traditional English degree so there giant gaps in my reading when it comes to classics and the canon, so I thought if I was assigned some of these titles, it would make me feel less dumb in general. My mentor has been great about accommodating this, so each packet has featured something classic (Faulkner, Balzac), something more contemporary (Lorrie Moore, David James Duncan) and then I pick one YA book, the best of the best that comes across my desk.

    I have a part of me that wants to be able to criticize things properly, so I feel that I must read SOME Hemingway before dismissing him out of hand – I tried For Whom The Bells Tolls years ago and couldn’t get past the “Robert Jordan stroked his lean jaw” and “Maria clung to him, shivering” bullshit. But that’s hardly fair, so here we are, years later, and me realizing that I should probably not waste too much more time on things like this.

  • Ela on Apr 01, 2012 Reply

    Agree with Kate that this is your response paper in a nutshell. But I’m still scratching my head as to why you’re reading this at all–aren’t we supposed to read things that _are_ germane and _do_ inform our writing?

  • Blythe Woolston on Mar 30, 2012 Reply

    Well, at least the part about how Hemingway informs your writing should be short and sweet: He doesn't–except maybe now you will avoid doing any Hemingwayesque things.

    It really could be worse, much, much worse…not Hemingway, but the task of writing about how Hemingway informs your writing. If you were me, for example, you would have to mention a short story you wrote when you

    • Carrie on Mar 30, 2012 Reply

      But I LOVED your fishing book, Blythe! It wasn't about FISHING. It was about PEOPLE. I wrote my last paper on it, even!

  • Fiesty Sister on Mar 30, 2012 Reply

    It doesn't get better. Seriously. . you know my history, right? That that his first love was my Grandmother? Because we were always dogged by that history, I tried to like him. So did she.

    I did like that story, "Hills Like White Elephants," though.

    • Carrie on Mar 30, 2012 Reply

      SHUT.UP. No, I didn't know that!

      Everyone says that story is good. Of course I didn't read that story. Blah, said Toad.

  • Andrew Karre on Mar 30, 2012 Reply

    Well, in all of Hemingway, I don't think it gets better than The Sun Also Rises (but I adore The Sun Also Rises). I only ever re-read it, A Movable Feast (where you find the wang comparison), and the shorts

    For all the settings and booze and bulls, for me, TSAR is about Jake gritting his teeth and outlasting everyone and everything. And somehow, Hemingway makes that, book-length

    • Carrie on Mar 30, 2012 Reply

      So, the way through is to just…grimace? Mimic Jake himself?

    • Andrew Karre on Mar 30, 2012 Reply

      Or maybe to realize that you couldn’t mimic Jake–and not because he is heroic; he’s not–he just has some quality that allows him to stay on the edge longer than anyone else. We’d more likely end up Cohens or Bills or Bretts or Mikes, if we survived the war at all (mustn’t forget the war). The bit with Bill before they get to the festival, where they talk about “irony and pity,” when I was a pompous undergrad, I argued that was the key scene. Can’t remember why, though.

      Maybe Evan needs to spend some time with Papa….

    • Carrie on Mar 30, 2012 Reply

      NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Please don’t make me do that!

  • Kate on Mar 30, 2012 Reply

    You do realize that this post is your response paper. Tie in how your own writing can be opaque and whiny (hopefully not about a broken dick), lack of dialogue tags,.and you're golden.

    • Carrie on Mar 30, 2012 Reply

      I'd rather write about broken dicks!

      David Cates is thoroughly sick of my bitching, trust. I'm trying to be positive and not a hater of the classics. You can see on that's going.

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