on December 9, 2001
To me, this book is so eloquent I am reluctant to review it because it will be impossible to do it justice.
It is a collection of short stories from earlier works of Hemingway. In each of them, a thoughtful reader can gain insight into Hemingway and him/herself.
The following is from "Indian Camp." In it, Nick is a very young boy, and, with his physician father, he has been present at a difficult childbirth and found the victim of a suicide. Dawn is approaching and he is in the canoe with his father rowing back across the lake.
"Do many men kill themselves, Daddy?"
"Not very many, Nick."...
"Is dying hard, Daddy?"
"No, I think it's pretty easy Nick. It all depends."
They were seated in the boat, Nick in the stern, his father rowing. The sun was coming up over the hills. A bass jumped, making a circle in the water. Nick trailed his hand in the water. It felt warm in the sharp chill of the morning.
In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern with his father rowing, he felt quite sure that he would never die.
Regardless of how you feel about Hemingway, this is a poignant look into the soul of the man, and ourselves. Hemingway's family was plagued by suicide, including that of his physician father, and, like all of us, Hemingway was once a young child coming to grips with the idea of mortality, in a world still fresh and fascinating and frightening.
Other stories deal with the joys of a life full-lived, an appreciation of the natural world around us, and our "quiet desperation," in love, life, and death.
"The Nick Adams Stories" is high on my "Top Ten List."
on October 22, 2008
In the spring of 2008 the first Great Michigan Read was launched, a program which encouraged state residents to join in the reading and discussion of one book. The book chosen for this ambitious and worthy project was a classic: Ernest Hemingway's The Nick Adams Stories. Program coordinators throughout the state went to great pains to publish and distribute background information on the the book and on the Hemingway family connections to northern Michigan. Many readers were surprised to learn that Ernest Hemingway spent all the summers of his youth at the family cottage on Walloon Lake near Petoskey. That area and other northern Michigan towns provide the settings for most of the tales of young Nick Adams, often called Hemingway's fictional alter ego.
The Nick Adams Stories first appeared under that title in 1972, in an edition which attempted to chronologically arrange the tales and also added previously unpublished fragments found after Hemingway's death. Most of the original stories, however, were first published in 1925, when Hemingway was living in Paris, under the title, In Our Time.
I read this collection the first time in 1968, in an American Lit class at Central Michigan University. Our professor, Dr. John Hepler, spent much of our clast time explaining what he called the collection's centerpiece story, "Big Two-Hearted River." It depicted Nick Adams' solitary fishing trip to a river near Seney, in the Upper Peninsula. Dr. Hepler carefully pointed out to us the utterly peaceful setting of the forest and the river, the small simple pleasures of the details of making camp and the process of fishing itself. Then he made sure we knew, that although the war is never mentioned in the narrative, it is nevertheless clear that Nick had come to this place to try to recover, to heal from some traumatic event.
Hemingway himself was seriously wounded during his service in the First World War and spent several months recovering in a hospital in Italy, so the events of the war were still fresh in his mind when he wrote those first stories, set in upper Michigan. But Nick Adams stands for much more than just the author's own experiences. His character and the reaching out for healing represented a whole generation of young men damaged by war.
It was in that same CMU classroom that I also learned the source of that first story collection's original title, In Our Time. It was a line from the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer - "Give us peace in our time, O Lord."
Dr. Hepler drove this home to us, continuing, perhaps in his own paraphrasing: "We get not peace in our time, O Lord, But only violence and numbness."
I remembered all this as I re-read the stories with great interest this year, nearly forty years later. From March to May, I helped facilitate group discussions of the book at libraries in Osceola, Mecosta and Lake Counties. As we talked of Hemingway's life and his stories, and the pristine beauty of the rivers and forests of northern Michigan, the pleasures of fishing and the healing powers of nature, all agreed on one thing: we still get not "peace in our time.
Reflecting on these talks, I considered how this has been true in my own family. My mother was born in 1916, during the First World War. Her first four sons were all "war babies," born in the World War II years. I was the fourth, born in 1944. Her last two children were born during another war, Korea.
I served in the army from 1962 to 1965, during the Cold War, but it was also the Vietnam era. The first American casualty in Vietnam was in 1961.
My first son was born in 1969, the second in 1971. By those years hundreds of American soldiers were dying in Southeast Asia every week. Body counts and casualty figures were a staple on evening news broadcasts - "violence and numbness" prevailed.
My older son served in the army during the first Gulf war, a mercifully brief conflict which saw a limited number of American deaths. But Jeff, who was working as a "psych tech" in the psychiatric ward of Landstuhl Army Hospital at the time, told me some heartbreaking stories of a few patients, mostly officers and NCOs, brought in from the war zone who had simply cracked under the protracted pressure of responsibility and the tension of waiting, and wondering what would happen, and how they would respond - emotional casualties of modern warfare.
My first three grandchildren were born in 2004 and 2007 - "war babies" like their fathers, and like my mother and me. There are two more grandchildren due later this year in our family. It seems an inevitable given that these too will be children born under the shadow of war.
"We get not peace in our time, O Lord."
Sadly, I know that this pattern of birth and death and war that I find in my own family history is refelected and repeated endlessly in millions of families in this country and around the world, and is likely to continue.
Ernest Hemingway experienced firsthand the physical fear and pain and the emotional trauma that the violence of combat can bring. He managed to convey these feelings in his fiction - in those first stories of Nick Adams, and, later, in his classic and heartbreaking novel, A Farewell to Arms. Hemingway went on to a brilliant career in writing, but he always carried with him those psychic scars of war. In 1961 he took his own life. But his stories live on and can still teach us something. The Nick Adams Stories was an excellent book selection for the first Great Michigan Read. More than eighty years have passed since Hemingway wrote those stories, but they are still relevant. They still give us pause, make us think.
"Give us peace in our time, O Lord ..."
- Tim Bazzett, author of Soldier Boy and Love, War & Polio
on January 6, 1997
Though Hemingway did not, strictly speaking, write this book, he did write
every word in it: except of course for the preface. The stories about Nick Adams
originally appeared in the Hemingway collections, In Our Time, Men Without Women, and Winner Take Nothing, all
published before Papa was 40. Here they have been assembled in "chronological" order, i.e. in an order based upon
Nick's apparent age in the stories, and have been "supplemented" with 8 pieces of Nick Adams material which Hemingway
never published. The best of these "new" pieces is "Summer People," a moving and evocative story involving young lust.
The most fascinating piece, for those interested in Hemingway the writer, as writer, and in his opinions on other writers, is
the piece "On Writing." Perhaps the most provocative "might have been" is the unfinished novella, "The Last Good Country," in which
Nick runs away from home to avoid arrest by game wardens, and is accompanied by his younger sister, "Littless." This assemblage
does not, to be sure, create a Nick Adams novel, but it does allow the stories to build and accumulate, and to create thereby, perhaps, the semblance of a life. And yes, of course I had to use the information in the preface to assemble this review. I'm not a Hemingway scholar, you know.
on May 7, 1999
The Nick Adams Stories is the most satisfying read of my life. With the end of each story you first think that there has to be more; then you sit back and realize how much Hemingway has truly said with such short, simple, yet fluid language. This book, along with For Whom The Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms negates any criticism for his recieving the Nobel Prize.
When you finish this book, as you do when you finish each story, you can only sit back and smack your lips. Even your saliva tastes more pure. Reading this book is like bathing your mind and spirit in the cleanest spring. Highly inspirational and without any faults. This is the perfect collection of short stories, plain and simple. Yes, plain and simple.
Mr. Hemingway, God bless you.
on November 24, 1999
This collection of short stories includes the most effective use of symbology that I have ever read. As such, it is important to find the deeper meaning behind Hemimgway's words when reading The Nick Adams Stories. For example, look for the psychological significance of the fish, river, backpack, and swamp in Big Two-Hearted River. The collection is highly emjoyable and is an excellent introduction to other works by Hemingway.