Books, Fiction

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (1987)

So, first off, this is not the “complete stories” so that is a mark against this collection. There are both early stories and some later (I believe unpublished) stories that are in this. Still, it collects its most famous stories and a bunch of others.

“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” (1936): I loved this the first time I read it in English in University. I think I thought it was his best story. I am a little more ambiguous about it today, but I acknowledge that writing from the lion’s point of view is quite different and it’s well told. I have less time for Hemingway’s strict view of gender roles now than I did then, especially given what I now know about Hemingway’s personal life (he cross-dressed, etc.). Would a woman really be this upset about finding out her husband is scared? I really don’t know that I buy that.

“The Capital of the World” aka “The Horns of the Bull” (1936): Fairly slight but that one paragraph where he describes everyone else in the story going about their lives is quite cool and extremely cinematic.

“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1936): I agree that this is one of his best stories. It’s fairly unique and the way it ends is pretty great.

“Old Man at the Bridge” (193?): Very brief and kind of slight.

“Up in Michigan” (1921): One of his most famous stories. I’m not sure it’s dated as well as some people maintain but it is certainly significant for its time.

“On the Quai at Smyrna” (1930): Quite slight. But I do appreciate the mocking tone.

In Our Time (1925)

“Indian Camp” (1924): One of his most famous stories. I quite liked it the first time. Now, decades later, I’m again a little less in awe of it. I still think it’s quite effective and I do appreciate the ambiguity (which is common in a lot of these).

“The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife” (1925): Fairly slight. People like this one a lot but mostly in reference to “Indian Camp.” I think if you read this by itself and had never read “Indian Camp” it would elicit a shrug.

“The End of Something” (1925): I think this is one is quite well done.

“The Three-Day Blow” (1925): This is one of those stories that it feels like you have to read the earlier one first. However, I think this one works without having read “The End of Something.”

“The Battler” (1925): This is an interesting little vignette that I think is some attempt at a 20s version of expressing the idea that you shouldn’t judge people by their skin colour or their fame.

“A Very Short Story” (1924): Very autobiographical. Oddly enough, not his shortest story, I believe.

“Soldier’s Home” (1925): I don’t know if this is one of the earliest examples of American fiction about the Lost Generation but it’s one of the earlier ones I’m aware of at the top of my head.

“The Revolutionist” (1924): Nothing really to see here.

“Mr. and Mrs. Elliot” (1924): Almost feels like Fitzgerald.

“Cat in the Rain” (1925): George Saunders is a big fan of this one.

“Out of Season” (1923): Slight but entertaining.

“Cross Country Snow” (1924): I was kind of annoyed to find out that he skied too. This is pretty good. It does a good early job at describing skiing and also the brevity of these types of relationships.

“My Old Man” (1923): One of the reasons I like this one a lot is because it’s far from being autobiographical. Now that I’ve watched Hemingway I know too much about his life and see elements of his autobiography in so much. None here. And it’s pretty good even if it’s not quite as distinctly him as the later stuff.

“Big Two-Hearted River” (1925): For me, this is perhaps the best encapsulation of the thing that makes Hemingway Hemingway. Everything is so focused on what he is doing, there’s so little dialogue, it’s pretty remarkable.

Men Without Women (1927)

“The Undefeated” (1927?): Though somewhat under-known, I think this is a really good one, even though I hate bullfighting.

“In Another Country” (1927): Though much more on the autobiographical side, I find this one quite affecting.

“Hills Like White Elephants” (1927): One of his most famous, it is also one of his best. It’s a good thing that nobody can agree whose side Hemingway is on.

“The Killers” (1927): Justly one of his most famous stories. The thing I like about it most may not be the thing critics like about it most.

“Che Ti Dice La Patria?” (1927): This is a rather slight one that I enjoy much more than many of his slighter stories. Its’ also somewhat autobiographical and I don’t always love those. But I like how it unfolds. And I like the final joke.

“Fifty Grand” (1927): This is an interesting one, among the better examples of his famous “Iceberg Technique.”

“A Simple Enquiry” (1927): I guess this is a trailblazing story but I didn’t find it particularly interesting.

“Ten Indians” (1927): An early examination of racism, in some ways, I guess.

“A Canary for One” (1927): I really enjoyed this one, particularly how it reveals a lot in its last line. That’s a gimmick I like.

“An Alpine Idyll” (1926): A sort of little joke about how people are perverted even in pretty places.

“A Pursuit Race” (1927): An interesting look at addiction that doesn’t quite work entirely.

“Today is Friday” (1926): A very brief scene which some people consider a one-act play. Not a fan.

“Banal Story” (1926): An attempt at doing something different it doesn’t work.

“Now I Lay Me” (1926): Kind of slight, but one of many of his stories that examines PTSD.

Winner Take Nothing (1933)

“After the Storm” (1933): I enjoyed this one about a man being unable to succeed at something while others do.

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” (1933): A seemingly very effective little piece about loneliness with a rather big mistake.

“The Light of the World” (1933): A brief little story about being strangers and not judging people by their looks. It’s okay.

“God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” (1933): Another brief, gross-out joke, but one with a pretty good character in it.

“The Sea Change” (1933): Another story with homosexuality as its theme, I like this one more than the other earlier one.

“A Way You’ll Never Be” (1933): One of his better stories about PTSD. Maybe the best?

“The Mother of a Queen” (1933): A slight one about a shitty bullfighter who doesn’t pay his bills. Not really for me.

“One Reader Writes” (1933): Really not noteworthy. An experiment that doesn’t really stand out.

“Homage to Switzerland” (1933): This is a weird one, conversations begin by repeating.

“A Day’s Wait” (1933): This is a pretty good description of a child’s fears about being sick.

“A Natural History of the Dead” (1933): Very different for Hemingway, not in his usual style, even though it covers a typical theme. Which makes it quite refreshing.

“Wine of Wyoming” (1933): This story contains a lot of French, which is kind of maddening.

“The Gambler, the Nun and the Radio” (1933): This is an interesting one, meshing his usual stuff about Italian hospitals with a totally different country.

“Fathers and Sons” (1933): Possibly the most admired of this set, I’m a little underwhelmed but I do see why people like it a lot.

“One Trip Across” (1934): One of his longer stories, this is an interesting tale with more plot than a lot of his stories.

“The Trademan’s Return” (1936): Very similar in some ways to the “One Trip Across” and in some ways very, very different, with a weird change in perspective and some odd digs at the government. Apparently this and the above story were eventually turned into a novel.

“The Denunciation” (1938): An interesting story about the Spanish Civil War with some typical Hemingway bluster about bars.

“The Butterfly and the Tank” (1938): A little different for him because he actually writes about writing the story again. Another piece about the Spanish Civil War.

“Night Before Battle” (1938): One of his best stories, in my mind, about war. Set in the Spanish Civil War.

“Under the Ridge” (1939): This is an interesting one, as with much of his Civil War stuff.

“Nobody Ever Dies” (1939): This story about revolutionaries in Cuba is fairly atypical for him. I’m not sure I like the vibe of it at the end, though.

“The Good Lion” (1951): Is this the worst story Hemingway ever wrote?

“The Faithful Bull” (1951): Very slight.

“Get a Seeing-Eyed Dog” (1957): This is a fairly heart-felt story that feels quite personal given what he was likely going through when he wrote it.

“A Man of the World” (1957): Quite an unusual story for him, focused on someone very few would write about.

“Summer People” (19??): Apparently in the collection it was released in, we’re told this is later in his life and he’s back from Europe. So there’s probably more to it than I can see. But this is not my favourite of these stories focused on Michigan.

“The Last Good Country” (19???): Never finished, this one feels like it could have been part of something much bigger. I don’t know how prejudiced I was about learning it was unfinished.

“An African Story” (1946?): The biggest problem with this story is that it feels like he’s transferred his experience growing upon in Michigan to Africa. But it’s effective if you can get around it.

“A Train Trip” (19?): Super weird idea of ethics, feels like a Nick Adams story without Nick Adams.

“The Porter” (19?): Brief but interesting. Another one of his stories about not judging a person by their looks.

“Black Ass at the Cross Roads” (19?): This is somewhat effective but I sort of know too much about him as a human for it to entirely work.

“Landscape with Figures” (19?): Aside from the (usual) know-it-all-ness of the author surrogate, this is compelling.

“I Guess Everything Reminds You of Something” (19?): I don’t what his kids say, he seems like an absolute jerk of a dad.

“Great News from the Mainland” (19?): Again, Hemingway seems like an ass of a father.

“The Strange Country” (19?): These people are awful. I wish I could admire the art but drunk driving (while making the drinks in the car!!!) and wannabe incest doesn’t work for me.

Hemingway is undoubtedly one of the great short story writers of his era. However, he’s not my kind of short story writer. I must admit I kind of like short stories for their potential for what some people will think of gimmicky: plot twists and reveals. The great thing about the form, for me, is that there is less room to screw up that stuff.

But, for the most part Hemingway is not interested in plot so much as he is in character development, mood, and subverting short story conventions. I often admire him for that more than I love him for that.

But the collection does a great job of showing off why he’s so highly regarded. And his best stories are among the best of the era.

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