In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway 1924

Inspired by one of my college roommates who suggested I review books published 100 years earlier, I picked up one of my all time favorites to re-read—Hemingway’s first book, the short stories collected in In Our Time.  I was not disappointed.

Hemingway was 25 years old in 1924, already a wounded veteran of WWI, a married man and a father, a newspaper reporter, and a widely traveled adventurer who wrote most of these stories while living in Paris along with Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the rest of the Lost Generation of  American expats.

The stories are his first foray into  the terse, boiled down style that would become his trademark and affect writers up until the present day.  My favorite story, though perhaps not his most famous, is Big-Hearted River where Nick Adams gets off a train in the middle of nowhere Upper Peninsula Michigan, hikes several miles to the eponymous river, sets up camp, makes what might be the most appetizing meal in literature (baked beans and spaghetti cooked over an open campfire), and goes trout fishing.  Here’s some fine writing:

“Nick was happy as he crawled inside the tent. He had not been unhappy all day. This was different though. Now things were done. There had been this to do.  Now it was done. It had been a hard trip. He was very tired. That was done. He had made his camp. He was settled. Nothing could touch him. It was a good place to camp. He was there, in the good place. He was in his home where he had made it.  Now he was hungry.”

After this book was published, American literature was never the same.  Fifteen additional stories round out the volume,  including his Indian Camp and My Old Man which are often anthologized.  These are stories of men. Men fighting bulls, waging war, fishing, boxing, riding the rails, betting on horses, doing what is necessary to keep life and limb together.  Unlike many other writers, Hemingway appears to have sprung fully developed in this, his first book.  The style that is unmistakable was there from the beginning.  He knew what he wanted to say about being a man, living in this world, struggling to survive and to achieve right from the start and he wrote about it over and over from The Sun Also Rises right until his final Nobel-prize winning, The Old Man in the Sea.  One of my all time favorite authors!

Thanks, Richard for the great idea!  My only disappointment is that I was unable to find an image for the cover that would have showed the Charles Scribner Library edition published in 1924 that I bought years ago at a used book store for 60 cents.