The literary scholar was unimpressed. "You should probably, you know, read one of his books before you dismiss them," Matt said.
Two months and a borrowed copy later, I sent a text message to Matt.
"I'm halfway through 'A Farewell to Arms'. Does it get any better?"
The response came quickly: "Not really."
I strongly considered abandoning the novel, but decide to push through to the bitter end. My planned future amount of hatred toward Papa Hemingway necessitated finishing my reading assignment. I accomplished the feat this week, and would like to share a few points with you.
As someone with a great interest in World War I, I was struck by how dull this story of a WWI ambulance driver actually was. My paperback's cover says AFTA "glows with an intensity unrivaled in modern literature", which is the last statement I would attribute to Hemingway's snoozefest. AFTA has precisely three mildly intense chapters (XXVIII through XXXI), wherein the protagonist's Italian army unit retreats from the Germans. The remainder of the book is the opposite of intense. The following excerpt is, unfortunately, illustrative of the book as a whole -- Lieutenant Henry has a drink and a boring conversation with a friend (in this case, the nurse he fell in love with / impregnated):
"I wish I could ski," Catherine said. "It's rotten not to be able to ski."Would you consider that intense? Did that put you on the edge of your seat? Is your heart racing? I didn't think so. If you would like to read an intense, glowing recount of WWI, avoid Hemingway and choose "All Quiet on the Western Front."
"We'll get a bobsled and come down the road. That's no worse for you than riding in a car."
"Won't it be rough?"
"We can see."
"I hope it won't be too rough."
"After a while we'll take a walk in the snow."
"Before lunch, Catherine said, "so we'll have a good appetite."
"I'm always hungry."
"So am I."
We went out in the snow but it was drifted so that we could not walk far. I went ahead and made a trail down to the station but when we reached there we had gone far enough. The snow was blowing so we could hardly see and we went into the little inn by the station and swept each other off with a broom and sat on a bench and had vermouths.
"It is a big storm," the barmaid said.
"The snow is very late this year."
"Could I eat a chocolate bar?" Catherine asked. "Or is it too close to lunch? I'm always hungry."
"Go on and eat one," I said.
"I'll take one with filberts," Catherine said.
"They are very good," the girl said, "I like them the best."
"I'll have another vermouth," I said.
The above excerpt was not the only filler tossed into the manuscript. AFTA is chock full of scenes that go nowhere. I assume that Hemingway used the novel to record actual events and conversations that he experienced during the war. This would be fine if said events contributed to the fiction he created, or if they were symbolic, or if they were interesting; unfortunately, they are not. It's too bad blogs didn't exist in 1929. He could have stuck his snacking recollections at ambulancedriver500.typepad.com, concentrated on text that furthered the plot, and cut out 150 pages in the process.
Lord, I wish he would have.
(I'd have read that blog, too.)