Hilary Hemingway's father, Leicester Hemingway, committed suicide in 1982, 21 years after his famous older brother, Ernest. In 1997, Hilary's mother died and left her a mysterious audiocassette of Leicester telling hunting stories at the family home in Miami Beach. Are the stories true? Interjections by Leicester's wife and a good friend suggest they are well-polished yarns, designed to deflect Ernest idolaters like the unnamed English professor whose nervous laugh and awkward questions punctuate the recording. Does it matter if they're true? "These stories are really good," says Hilary's 7-year-old daughter. "I even like them and I really hate hunting." Indeed, Leicester's suspenseful tales of stalking crocodiles, ostriches, and tigers with his adored big brother evoke the glamorous Hemingway world of men pitted against beasts as a test of courage and grace under pressure. Listening to the recording on her daughter's purple Barney tape player, the author rediscovers "the big, laughing man" who taught her "to enjoy whatever life might throw at me"; she then comes to terms with his suicide in the face of a debilitating illness. Skillfully interweaving her father's voice with her own reflections in her meditative text, the author reminds us that the Hemingway legacy is not just one of swaggering machismo, but of love for family and pleasure in the physical world. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
This is a disappointing narrative based on audiotaped accounts left by Hemingway's younger brother Leicester (himself a writer overshadowed by Ernest) and revealed here by Leicester's daughter. These tales, ostensibly related by Leicester to an anonymous professor researching the Hemingway mystique, are said to be ones "Papa never made public." The death-defying feats by Leicester and Ernest in Africa include escaping from a pack of man-eating wild dogs, killing a cobra that hovers inches from Leicester's head, even planting explosives on Nazi U-boats. Through listening to these tapes, an epiphany comes to Hilary about her father, who, like Ernest and his father before him, committed suicide: "Dad's stories are all that's important.... The stories are for you, for me, for everyone, to know my Dad as he really was, a man who had the courage to love life." Never before able to forgive his suicide, Hilary "for the first time... could mourn my father." The entire work seems apocryphal, which is forgivable; and the adventure stories themselves, while predictably misogynist, are relatively absorbing, but two factors ruin the integrity of this work. First is the mocking portrayal of the literature professor on the tape: he seems to have no manners, no real life experience and ridiculously symbolic interpretations of Hemingway stories. The stereotype is overdone to the point that few readers will sympathize with Hilary's father, a man who is hostile to even the most basic questions about himself and his brother. Second, while some of the information documented is important for anyone wishing to learn more about Hemingway's family, Hilary's frame narrative about her discovery of the tapes is so insipidly written that it reads like a work of young adult fiction. (July)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.