In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I rarely step out of my reading comfort zone. And I was really hesitant to pick up In Our Time. But I was looking to expand my literary horizons and this book was close to hand. I knew who Hemingway was before reading this, but I had never read any of his work (not by choice anyway) and I had no desire too before. So it came as a surprise when I bit the bullet and did. When I first read it, I hated it.
But now, many years later, I have very conflicting opinions about this book and Hemingway in general. On the one hand I love how complex and deep his characters are. And his writing style, while short and choppy, is surprisingly very effective when it comes to portraying strong emotions. The old saying goes "Less is more" and Hemingway embodies that to the fullest. Its short and quick but expressive. My favorite story in this collection is 'The Battler', a story about a train stowaway who shares an evening with with a former boxing champion (who is half-crazy) and his companion. Its hard for me expression what I like about it. It just has this surreal atmosphere that sucks you in, and the way Hemingway portrays the boxer is one that both scary and yet sympathetic. Scary because the boxer is unpredictable (he's content one moment then enraged the next), and sympathetic because deep down he's just a sad and confused misfit who screwed his life up and doesn't know what to do with himself.
On the other hand though, while Hemingway's style is his greatest strength, its also his greatest weakness. His prose's leaves way too much to the imagination and that can confuse and alienate readers. He also doesn't give us much direct insight into what his characters are thinking, preferring instead to let their actions and dialogue show what they are thinking. When I first read this I had no clue that that was what he was doing. And the narrator's voice is so bloody wooden and BORING that it literally put me to sleep. And more than once I considered throwing it away.
But what really turned me off is just how depressing as hell this book is. I can understand putting all your pain into a story, you'd have to be inhuman to filter it out. But Hemingway takes it WAAY to far. Every story shows the negative side of life. There's no happiness, or very little of it. Every character is cosmically depressed about something or is faced with such an impossible situation that they can't see any other way out. I understand that Hemingway and other authors of his day were trying to be gritty and realistic to the point of insanity. But what they failed to realize themselves was that life isn't gloom and doom all the time. It never has been and it never will be. Painting it that way makes just your work melodramatic (for lack of a better term).
But to be fair, the stories in this book were not meant to be entertainment, so much as they were an outlet for the author's own personal problems and fears. Hemingway was chronically depressed for most of his life and he was also an alcoholic, and that comes out in his work.
But despite all that, I did eventually end up enjoying the book, even if I didn't realize it at the time. In Our Time is one of those books that leaves a sonic boom. The emotions it portrays stays with you and makes you think even after you've put the book back on the shelf.
This is not a book for everyone by any means, I wouldn't even recommend it to 90% of my friends. But it definitely deserves its reputation as one of the great works of literature. If you can stomach all the flaws then go for it. Otherwise stay away.
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