Writers in the Hemingway Tradition

If you’re watching Lynn Novick and Ken Burns’ documentary Hemingway this week on PBS, you’ve heard a lot of writers and commentators talking about what a profound influence Ernest Hemingway has had on American literature. As the writer Tobias Wolff puts it, “It’s hard to imagine a writer today who hasn’t been in some way influenced by him. It’s like he changed all the furniture in the room, right? And we all  have to sit in it. We can kind of sit on the armchair, or on the arm…” No matter how you may feel about the man (or mansplainer, philanderer and self-mythologizer), there’s no denying that Hemingway the writer originated an oblique, minimalist style that has cast a long shadow over our literary landscape.

Among his near contemporaries, many authors in the genres of hardboiled crime and noir adopted a similar colloquial, hardbitten style. Try reading James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice and see if you don’t fine a spiced up version of Hemingway’s understated prose from the very first line: “They threw me off the hay truck about noon.” Other classic noir writers of the 1930s and 1940s, such as Cornell Woolrich or William Lindsay Gresham, reveal a similarly uncompromising, clipped style that is still found in many hardboiled writers – such as Elmore Leonard – today.

Perhaps no writer epitomize’s Hemingway’s “iceberg theory” of writing – the idea that the writer can omit anything, and that omitted part will strengthen the story – as Raymond Carver. Pick up pretty much any of Raymond Carver’s short stories about struggling and often inarticulate Americans, and see if you aren’t struck by what Carver chooses to leave out. At their best, both Hemingway and Carver manage to create profound and ringing silences around their words. The title of Carver’s first published story collection – Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?  – feels almost like an homage to a line of dialogue from the great Hemingway short story Hills Like White Elephants: “Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?”

Although not coming from American tradition, sometimes the terse, plainspoken writing of Swedish author Per Petterson can be very reminiscent of the Hemingway tradition. Listen to this passage from Out Stealing Horses: “I could suddenly get a longing to be in a place where there was only silence. Years might go by and I did not think about it, but that does not mean that I did not long to be there. And now I am here, and it is almost exactly as I had imagined it.” Petterson seems to follow Hemingway’s rule to “cut the scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.”

A number of Northwest writers have crafted similarly terse novels of gritty reality, such as Shann Ray’s story collection American Masculine,  parts of David Guterson’s The Country Ahead of Us, The Country Behind, or Larry Watson’s As Good As Gone. One not to miss is the powerful contemporary tragedian Willy Vlautin, whose ruthlessly honest stories of the struggles and losses of American dreamers are pitch perfect snapshots of contemporary life, stunning in their authenticity and restraint. Check out Vlautin’s latest, The Night Always Comes.

Here are some other authors and titles that harken back in various ways to Hemingway’s pared-down, oblique style.

     ~ Posted by David W.

Icy Isolation

Ok, I know Spring is sprung and we’re all ready for flowers, more daylight, and sunnier days, but I’m taking one last look back at winter with this trio of recent suspense novels that find characters trapped in remote, snowy mountain lodges in the Alps.

One by One by Ruth Ware
The eight shareholding employees of a tech start-up gather at a high-end ski chalet in the French Alps to discuss the contentious topic of opening their company to investors. But soon after arrival, one in their party goes missing on the slopes, and soon an avalanche has trapped the group and the two chalet staff inside with no phone access, no wifi, and no electricity. Tensions and tempers flare, until one by one other members of the group disappear into the snow or are found dead in their rooms. Told from the perspective of Liz, a former employee who holds the linchpin vote; and Erin, the chalet hostess and ski guide hiding her own secrets.

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pears
Elin, estranged from her brother Isaac, has nonetheless gone with her fiancée Will to celebrate Isaac’s engagement at Le Sommet, a former tuberculosis sanatorium in the Swiss Alps renovated into a minimalist hotel. A detective back in the UK, Elin arrives already unsettled, on leave after her last case left her injured and questioning her judgement, an uneasiness intensified by the starkness and history of the hotel. When both Isaac’s fiancée and a staff member go missing, and an avalanche traps the few remaining guests and staff in the hotel, cut off from local police assistance, Elin starts digging but finds much more than she bargained for.

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Clarion West’s Beyond Afrofuturism series: Black Editors and Publishers in Speculative Fiction

Are you interested in Speculative Fiction? Are you a writer? Are you interested in learning more about Black editors and publishers in the speculative fiction field?

We are pleased to be co-sponsoring this upcoming online event series with the Clarion West Writers Workshop and don’t want you to miss it!

The first event, Ancestors and Anthologies: New Worlds in Chorus, will be on Monday, April 12th at 6:30 pm PST. Moderated by award-winning author, editor, and Clarion West alum Nisi Shawl (New Suns, Everfair, Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany), this panel will feature a discussion with Linda D. Addison (Sycorax’s Daughters), Maurice Broaddus (POC Destroy Horror & Dark Faith), and Clarion West alum Sheree Renée Thomas (Dark Matter & Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine). Continue reading “Clarion West’s Beyond Afrofuturism series: Black Editors and Publishers in Speculative Fiction”

New Always Available eBook Collection

I love living – and being a librarian – in a city of readers, but I won’t lie: the eBook hold queues can be intense. New this month are 170 eBooks that are always available – no holds, no wait! Here are some highlights to get you started.

Book Club Picks

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21 Irish Novels for the 21st Century

Let’s just get this out of the way: this St. Patrick’s Day list of 21 Irish Novels for the 21st Century is absurdly incomplete. Where are Colm Tóibín, Emma Donoghue, Roddy Doyle or William Trevor? There’s no Anne Enright, or John Boyne, or John Banville or his alter-ego Benjamin Black; no Tana French or Ken Bruen – all wonderful worthwhile writers, to be sure, but you already know about them, don’t you? So: here are some other 21st Century Irish writers and novels, including maybe just a few that you haven’t already heard of.

Fans of Sally Rooney’s truly brilliant, achingly human Normal People – haven’t read it? it’s amazing: you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, trust me – may also enjoy Michelle Gallen’s recent U.S. debut Big Girl, Small Town, a deviously funny tale set in post-troubles Northern Ireland that calls to mind the show Derry Girls, and also Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times, a wry and insightful novel in which Irish expat Ava becomes entangled in a love triangle with a male banker and a female lawyer. Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies is an absolute joy, capturing the pain and beauty of growing up – or failing to grow up – in suburban Ireland. Then there’s the quirky, everyday magic of Rónán Hession’s Leonard and Hungry Paul, a sweet thoughtful book about two Continue reading “21 Irish Novels for the 21st Century”