POSTCARD FROM KEY WEST
Ernest Hemingway is ‘current’ again, the way Shakespeare was for awhile. There’s the success of Paula McLain’s “The Paris Wife,” and the lovely, forthcoming “Hemingway’s Girl,” by Erika Robuck. The JFK Library has released previously unpublished correspondence that reveals the writer’s softer side. We’re all taking a second look.
I grew up with a mother who considered Hemingway larger than life. I learned to revere him long before I was old enough to read him. When I arrived in Key West a few days ago, I went straight to his house.
There, among the Life magazine covers and photos of hunting trophies and fish-fighting chairs, you can see how powerfully the Hemingway image played out. But there, too, is his kitchen: a still life now, preserved behind a museum rope; there is the bathroom corner sink, with its opposing taps, where he would have washed his face, brushed his teeth, checked himself in the mirror.
I’ve always been a little obsessed, a little bit undone, when I find myself in preserved spaces. As my character, Dez, in Cascade, thinks: We people take up space and then when we’re gone, there is just the space left. And sometimes you can’t comprehend how that can happen.
When the JFK Library released the new letters, the Ernest Hemingway curator, Susan Wrynn, said, “We think of him as a hunter or as machismo image. But in the letters, we see a warmer side.”
But are we really surprised by a softer side? I can’t look at this postcard photo of him, patting that scraggly little cat, without choking up. He was a man who liked cats, a man who killed himself. Painful stuff.