I read a book last week Hemingway in Michigan published in 1966. In it the author explores aspects of Hemingway’s biography as it relates to Michigan locations in his stories. The biography part was fascinating. I learned much. For example, I thought he lived in Petoskey quite a while. He only lived in Petoskey a short while (much less than a year, if I remember correctly). His family had a cottage on Walloon Lake, just south of Petoskey. He had spent several summers there growing up. After his short stint in the ambulance corps of the Italian army in World War I, where he had gotten blasted with shrapnel (the author seems to wonder if he took one in the weenie, and if so whether that was a motivation for the manly bravado Hemingway often exhibited in his life and writing), he rented a room for a few months in Petoskey. I also learned that he had been a newspaper writer, before the war in Kansas City, after the war in Toronto.
Part of the book was annoying to me. At times the author seemed concerned to discern which parts of Hemingway’s fiction were factual, which parts were factually-based fiction, and which parts were “pure” fiction. Some of the factually-based fiction seemed to have deeply annoyed folks, thinking that “Ernie” was telling lies about them. They failed to grasp that he could only be telling lies if he was meaning to do something like newspaper reporting.
One section that was quite fascinating was where the author was hinting at Hemingway’s transition from reporting to story-telling. The author dissected a report Hemingway wrote for the Toronto newspaper about his camping and fishing trip to the Fox River near Seney, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. She put parts of it in one column, then dissected parts of “Big Two-Hearted River” and put them in the second column, with the aim to show two things. One was how the newspaper report, or at least the events it reports, seemed to have been the basis of the events narrated in “Big Two-Hearted River.” The other was to show the transformation in Hemingway from report-style writing to imaginative narration.
For the past 35 years I have regularly written a letter to my parents. Over the past half dozen years or more it has gotten to be a weekly, two-page single-spaced letter. I think that my letters used to more tell stories. They were factual stories, but still stories. Over the past few years, it seems the letters have become more journalistic reports of what I did on Monday, on Tuesday, on Wednesday, and so on. Or for variety, I sometimes start at the most recent day and work backward. Or I might report something my son had done, then something my daughter had done, then something my wife had done, then something I had done. Actually, I probably usually started with ME FIRST, then gave a passing notice about their lives.
So now I am thinking about telling stories again in my letters.