Books in Brief

Ernest Hemingway: A New Life, by James M. Hutchisson (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press; 320 pp., $37.95). As readers and critics had learned everything that is important to know about Hemingway and his work decades ago, subsequent books about the novelist have concentrated on viewing and re-viewing him from various angles.  Hutchisson admits that while Hemingway may not have been the greatest American writer, or even the author of the greatest American novel, he remains nevertheless “the American writer.”

Whatever sort of assessment this is, it is not a literary one.  Hemingway wrote one immortal novel (The Sun Also Rises), a book of first-rate short stories (In Our Time) and many other excellent or good stories, one fine novella (The Old Man and the Sea), and one fine but underrated work of narrative nonfiction (Green Hills of Africa).  The rest of his work was either mediocre (e.g., For Whom the Bell Tolls), weak (Across the River and Into the Trees), or embarrassing (To Have and Have Not), thus providing the basis for Harold Bloom’s judgment that he was a minor novelist with a major style.  Since both Hemingway’s art and his persona are widely regarded today as either artistically dated or politically offensive, or both, and his books mostly...

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