I’ve been to Key West just twice (so far), but it is one of my favorite places on this rock. And like any good tourist who fancies himself a penner or prose, the Hemingway House on Whitehead Avenue was on the list of must do’s.
Now, I’m not a Hemingway scholar by any means. Not eve close. I really have only read Old Man and the Sea and Farewell to Arms that I can recall. I may have read For Whom The Bell Tolls a long time ago, but can’t quite recall.
Still, I am fascinated by the myth of Hemingway, probably more so than his writing. And the myth is exactly what James McLendon’s Papa: Hemingway in Key West covers.
Papa starts with Hemingway leaving London and arriving in Key West via Cuba. It then sprawl out over the next 10 years of Hemingway’s life, largely covering the 30s. McLendon has stories of the places, the people, the safaris, the hunting trips, Havana, etc. It also goes into the details of his marriage to second wife Pauline and meeting the third wife Martha.
Hemingway crafted his Papa image, building himself up as a sporting everyman, while largely living off the money afforded himself through marriage until he eventually made his own. One such example from the book: delaying an African safari because an uncle could not foot the bill for him after the stock market crash. Poor feller had to wait a year to go. Reading the dichotomy of privilege vs. tough man idealism, it reminded of something Nick Offerman touched on in one of his books. Paraphrased: “Who would have thought some theater major from the University of Illinois would become a symbol for manliness?”
Hemingway is often set up as just such a symbol. After reading this, you come to see just how that myth was crafted.
I need to read To Have and Have Not, which was largely inspired by his time in Key West and at least partially autobiographical. I also need to track down the Ken Burns documentary on Hemingway as well. Still, McLendon’s Papa is a worthy biography. It is one I grabbed at a book story on my second trip to Key West. I like hitting local shops when I travel, and looking for something locally related to read. This one hit the sweet spot.
This was a hard copy. Let me know if you would like to read it.