Sunday, April 4, 2010

To Have And To Have Not

This Hemingway novel was selected as a community read which seemed like a good idea as the man was living in Key West at the time and the story is set partially in the city. Suddenly it became a little difficult to find a copy, which my wife picked up at the College library. Indeed, some visitors to the Southernmost City prepare themselves for the experience by reading this novel. Good luck with that, because the picture painted of Key West is not at all recognizable as the city of today. I am no great fan of the famously sparse Hemingway style of writing, and descriptions are not overly forthcoming in the narrative, but I found the opening chapters of this book to be captivating. It has been said that Hemingway, when he wrote the first half of the novel was projecting his own love of adventure (and fishing!) onto his character Harry Morgan, and perhaps that interest and envy gives the book it's opening vitality. I read the Cuban chapters with avid interest. Then the story moved to Key West and, as predicted by the author himself as well as his critics the story loses it's way.Given that I'm not a fan of short terse sentences and the general lack of ambient descriptions I advise caution in choosing to accept my criticisms as valid, but the downgrading of the second half of the novel is pretty much universal. The force and strength of the story gets lost in meandering descriptions of the Haves, people with money wintering in Key West Bight on their yachts, and the people thus described are startlingly close to people one might find today in similar situations. However their tedium is no match for the smuggling and lawlessness of Harry Morgan's adventures and one longs to find the conclusion to the story of Morgan's search for the big payoff.They do like to describe Morgan as "a good man" a judgement I find I cannot validate- he is cruel harsh and unrelentingly vicious to those around him. That his story ends in catastrophe leaves this reader fairly indifferent, quite frankly and all I could say was, "Well, there goes one less asshole."

The novel suffers to some degree by comparison with the star power of the 1944 film of the same name and vaguely related story. In fact the film version, set in World War Two Martinique holds together much better with a strong storyline and well rounded character studies. In fact while reading the novel I couldn't help but think of that other well knowN movie shot in Key West (set elsewhere) called The Rose Tattoo. Perhaps Key West in the Great Depression was Key West in it's heyday and it's been downhill ever since. On the other hand Hemingway makes no bones about the hunger and pride and fear that permeated the island during those depressed years so perhaps romance and reality are as far apart as ever.

To Have And To Have Not, for all it's flaws is a fast and easy read and taken in it's several disjointed pieces is a worthwhile portrait, lightly sketched of two places and several people who have some worthwhile portions of themselves to pass along to future readers.