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"Fear is a stranger to the ways of love. Identify with fear, and you will be a stranger to yourself." -ACIM

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Book Review; The Dangerous Summer




The Dangerous Summer By: Ernest Hemingway







Ever since I first read The Sun Also Rises I have had a huge fascination with Ernest Hemingway. His writing is the best I have ever had the pleasure of poring over and I do not have the ability to describe the emotions that it evokes. I am also just amazed that a writer of his caliber who changed the way the English language is used had the audacity to take his own life in 1961. In order to better understand the man and the way in which he developed his craft I decided to read every word he ever printed in a more or less chronological order. This has led me to The Dangerous Summer his final piece of nonfiction published during his lifetime.

Before I get to the Review, below is a list of Hemingway’s works all of which I have read except those denoted in bold font:

Novels/Novella

The Torrents of Spring (1925)
The Sun Also Rises (1926)
A Farewell to Arms (1929)
To Have and Have Not(1937)
For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)
Across the River and Into the Trees (1950)
The Old Man and the Sea (1952)
Adventures of a Young Man (1962)
Islands in the Stream (1970)
The Garden of Eden (1986)

Nonfiction

Death in the Afternoon (1932)
Green Hills of Africa (1935)
The Dangerous Summer (1960)
A Moveable Feast (1964)
Short Story Collections

Three Stories and Ten Poems (1923)
In Our Time (1925)
Men Without Women (1927)
The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1932)
Winner Take Nothing (1933)
The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories (1938)
The Essential Hemingway (1947)
The Hemingway Reader (1953)
The Nick Adams Stories (1972)

Now The Dangerous Summer is a story of Hemingway’s travels in the Summer of 1959 as he follows two bullfighters through Spain and parts of France as they compete head to head to prove who is the greatest of their time. While The Sun Also Rises is a piece of fiction where the main character Jake Barnes has a close relationship with bullfighter Pedro Romero and sees him through a bull fighting season, it is not a book about bullfighting as this piece of nonfiction is.

Here Hemingway directly involves himself in the story and is one of the major characters. He has attached himself to Antonio, a young and masterful bullfighter who is out to prove that he is the greatest in all of Spain and the world. Hemingway describes that in between the days of Pedro Romero, who was indeed a real life bullfighter, and the summer of 1959 that the sport had taken a sharp downturn in its legitimacy. Promoters had started fixing fights with weaker bulls and by blunting their horns to make them less dangerous. Bullfighters too he says were fighting with “tricks” rather than true, and more dangerous, technique.

Antonio however is out to prove that not only is he better than his main competitor and brother-in-law Luis Miguel but that he can restore bullfighting to its former glory and respectability. Throughout the book, Hemingway is there at Antonio’s side with advice and support. He does not root against Luis Miguel and in fact the entire group is quite close as they travel throughout the summer. However, there are obvious passages when Hemingway uses his prose and style to let you know who is the better of the two fighters both in and out of the ring.

Now if you hated The Sun Also rises for its long descriptive passages and its receptiveness in theme, then you might as well not even bother picking this one up. The book basically breaks down to: bullfight, travel, bullfight, hospital, travel, bullfight, bullfight…

If any other writer attempted to write this same book I would have put it down within the first 50 pages. However, I was looking more for the message of the book, the enjoyment of the style, and answers to why this piece was the last. If you do a little research you’ll find that it was a piece of writing that was intended for Time Magazine but that became its own book. But what can we discover from its theme and style?

On a surface read you would believe that Hemingway connected entirely with Antonio his close friend and companion. I don’t think this is exactly true since Hemingway himself is much more aligned with Luis Miguel when it comes to their places in life. Luis Miguel is on his final legs, trying desperately to appeal to his fans in the only way he knows how; in the ring. Hemingway is in the same place. He only knows one way at this point in life to live up the name that is Hemingway. Write. Write something that will bring them all back. Write something that will have them begging for more. The Old Man and the Sea had done this for him but in limited fashion according to his standards. And with this book fame did not come crashing towards him once again.

Here is the passage that really stood out to me when it comes to this relationship.

“But too many things were piling up and he was running out of luck. It was one thing to live to be the number one in the world in his profession and have that be the one truest thing in his life. It was another thing to be almost killed each time he went out to prove it and to know that only his wealthiest and most powerful friends, a number of beautiful women, and Pablo Picasso… still believed it. The important thing was for him to believe it himself. The others would all come back if he believed it and could make it true. Hurt and wounded as he was this wasn’t a good day to make it true. But he was going to try and maybe the old miracle that he had made at Malaga would come true.”

To me this is what Hemingway was going through in the last few years of his life as paranoia and alcoholism were catching up with him. He always wanted to be back on top with the whole of his readership begging for more. However, every time he went out there and published another short story, magazine article or piece of nonfiction, people were unimpressed and looking for The Great Hemingway. Only his most loyal fans were still there for him hanging on to every word. The publishers and buyers however were looking for the old Hemingway and the man that changed the way English was written and read.

Maybe this had something to do with his death, maybe it didn’t. But it is hard for me to believe that a summer spent watching and interacting with death on such a close and daily basis did not convince him of how easy it would be to allow it to come. Throughout the whole book he describes death as something to be feared but something that must be brought close and “carried with you in your pocket.”

I know this hasn’t been much of a book review, but I can save you the read by telling you that it has some amazingly descriptive passages on bullfighting, death and the culture surrounding both during the summer of 1959.

I have one book on my shelf Papa Hemingway by A.E. Hotchner, who makes appearances in The Dangerous Summer that I doubt I’ll read. Hotchner was a close companion to Hemingway and I’m sure presents a very biased opinion of the man and the writer. I do not need to have him presented as a good person, as I’m sure at times he was, in order to believe that he was a great writer and Hotchner has come under some fire for his presentation from what I’ve read so far.

In short, and to wrap this up since I’m sure none of you are reading this far down, nobody will ever know for sure why Hemingway decided to take his own life in 1961 and deny worldwide readers the chance to enjoy his work even more as he developed and changed in what would have been his later life. All of the post-mortem publications are muddled in that we are not sure why he decided not to publish them or why they were not picked up at the time of writing.

The Dangerous Summer just gave me a look at how he viewed death and the way in which we humans interact with it and at times invite it in.


“Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”

“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”

2 comments:

shanepettit said...

My prediction for football this coming week based on this blog topic: The Sun Also Rises 54, A Farewell to Arms 21. Was this comment very funny: no. Will AJ dedicate his blog to me next week: maybe my dreams will come true.

On a more serious note, I would like to see a little more mention of Texas Tech. My prediction for Tech vs. SMU: 221-6.

AJ said...

Very Good Shane. Too bad you commented on the wrong post there buddy. I'll keep an eye out for that TT v. SMU game and see if your prediction comes true. If they beat SMU by more than 21, the blog is yours.