Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hemingway's Michigan

The Michigan Humanities Council is sponsoring "The Great Michigan Read 2008," their choice of book being The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest hemingway. (See Many of the stories are set in Michigan.

To celebrate this event, the Detroit Free Press included in one of their issues a supplement with photos of Ernest hemingway, as well as one of the Nick Adams stories, "Big Two-Hearted River."

A narrative of a young man on a camping trip, it's not so much a story as a word-painting. Through patient accummulation of impressions and details, hemingway creates a three-dimensional world around the reader. the reader finds himself surrounded by the tent, pine chips, grasshoppers, axe, backpack. In that corner: the boiling pot of coffee. There: the canvas bucket of water hanging on a nail. Nearby: the ice-cold river. The reader experiences what the character experiences. There's pleasure in simplicity.

Too many literary writers without Ernest Hemingway's talent and intelligence, and without his commitment to authenticity, have clogged their narratives since with unselective details about everything-- a pathological mass of furniture and furnishings: trivial garbage. There's an inability to get to the point, and the reader snoozes off or tosses the magazine aside in disgust long before he's finished the story of artistic lethargy and dust. The New Yorker in particular with its audience of exclusivity has a fondness for such "fictions." Embracing the inaccessible is an important part of snob appeal.

Today's worst practitioners of literary Detail Disease include lauded names like Alice Munro, Jonathan Lethem, and Jonathan Franzen.

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