I have to admit, I am absolutely dumbfounded at how little Hemingway I’ve read. I read The Sun Also Rises a couple years ago (a copy I had purchased on my honeymoon in 1996 but had never bothered to read until recently) and felt like I got it; I figured out what all the fuss was about and why Hemingway was so highly-regarded. Why I didn’t immediately line up the rest of his works in the queue is a mystery to me. Hemingway’s ability to evoke imagery in the reader’s mind is unparalleled in my experience.
After some fits and starts and failures, beginning some books that didn’t resonate with me at all, I decided to go back to Hemingway, whose The Old Man and the Sea was perfect for my short attention span. Not to mention that it won the Pulitzer in 1952 and was a driving force behind Hemingway’s receipt of the Nobel Prize.
The story tracks our hero, Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman who has gone 84 days without catching anything. He concocts a plan to go farther out to sea to try to catch the big one; when he actually catches a huge marlin, it drags his little boat even farther out to sea over the course of two days. Hemingway tells the story of the epic battle between the two with such precision and with such detail to the specific tools Santiago uses and actions he takes that you can’t help but believe Hemingway himself was a fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico for thirty years.
This story is absolutely spellbinding, even if I wasn’t familiar with some of the nautical and angling terminology. It was simply breathtaking to follow Santiago as his mental and physical limits are stretched beyond anything I’ll ever experience. And the metaphor reflected by what happens to Santiago and the marlin is so moving and heartbreaking that I see it in every sad tale I’ve heard since, whether real or fictional.
You can bet your skiff that I’ll be lining up some more Hemingway soon. I’ve decided that he will be the fallback whenever I hit a dry spell, because I know I can count on him.