So much goes into a book, yet never finds its way into the book. As Hemingway said, “If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.”
From Dez’s diary, a ‘darling’ I had to cut from the final version of Cascade:
Each day I get no farther than scratched-out sketches that accumulate in the trash—balled-up sheets of valuable paper that trigger so many waves of self-doubt.
How can I be any good if I can’t even capture my own father? If my mind’s eye is already losing the precision of his features—the sharp length of his nose, the weak blue of his eyes, how then, to grasp the intangibles? The heavy grace of his stage presence? The disquieting boom of his voice? The chills he could deliver to an audience?
Sometimes I am afraid that inspiration has shrugged at me and will never return. And words—inky marks!—look paltry. They’re no better than paint. Even the date, so meager: January 24, 1934. Today. Now. Even as I complete the w, now becomes then.
Time is so slippery, it doesn’t even bother to laugh at the human desire to grasp it—it simply does nothing but pass.
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 The JFK Library has released previously unpublished correspondence that reveals the writer’s softer side.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.