Hemingway's short stories: Art and the ideal of masculinity

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Ernest Hemingway, author of "The Best Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway."

The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

By Ernest Hemingway

Scribner. 545 pp. $35.


Reviewed

by Ron Charles


N o living fiction writer towers over American culture the way Ernest Hemingway once did. His blend of machismo and existential stoicism captivated a lost generation shattered by war. His style mesmerized readers for decades. They still fall prey to its impassive tone and declarative simplicity. There was a time when it seemed that he, like so many other once-indispensable writers, might fade away. But, like the handsome bullfighter in The Sun Also Rises, his work just keeps getting up no matter how many times it's beaten down.

You can see how he perfected his style in an illuminating new edition of his short stories. This is the fourth volume in the Hemingway Library series, and to read it is to be shocked again by the fecundity of his genius. Writing one great story is remarkable, but here is classic after classic, including "Indian Camp," "Big Two-Hearted River," "The Killers," "Hills Like White Elephants," "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber."

Some of the stories, such as "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," appear with alternative endings and notes showing additions and deletions. This material has long been available to scholars, but it's presented here in a thoroughly accessible way by Seán Hemingway, the author's grandson, who edited the volume and provides a helpful introduction.

My renewed fondness for his stories is boosted by a recent trip to Spain with my wife and younger daughter. On our last day in Seville, we searched for a ride to the airport for more than an hour before learning that all the taxi drivers were on strike. There seemed little chance of catching our plane.

My daughter walked over to the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza, one of the oldest bullrings in Spain. In her broken Spanish, she asked whether anyone there could help us. A young man named Juan indicated he would drive us to the airport for 20 euros. We piled into his rusty jalopy, and, only as we were hurtling down the highway did I see the next day's headline in my mind: "Three American naïfs accept ride from mysterious Spaniard and vanish."

I shouldn't have worried. Juan, it turns out, was an actual bullfighter. Our hero had to be back at the ring by 9. He drove with grace. He "never made any contortions, always it was straight and pure and natural."

We were in Hemingway's world.

This review originally appeared in the Washington Post.