You’ll find decades-long repressed memories dislodged in Micheline Aharonian Marcom’s The Daydreaming Boy, where eyebright prose perfectly puts across a distressed narrator’s unrestrained thoughts. Orphaned in the midst of Turkey’s massacre of the Armenians, Vahé Tcheubjianthrough descriptions of unfulfilling trysts, brutal flashbacks, disturbing dreams, bizarre encounters with a monkey at the zoo, and imagined conversations with the mother who abandoned himconfronts his denials and ultimately challenges his very identity. Mirrors are Vahé’s tools for examining his past and its resultant pain, but it is the warped reflections of funhouse mirrors that he ultimately sees: distortions abound: here one stretches, this one condenses, and still another magnifies.


JC: Two coinciding events led me to Hemingway recently.

A couple of weeks ago, we posted Greg Olear’s essay for the When We Fell In Love series, in which he wrote about The Sun Also Rises. Around the same time, we posted D. R. Haney’s WWFIL about William Faulkner. Over at The Nervous Breakdown, we had quite a few comments preferring one author or the other for various reasons; I fell in behind Uncle Bill, but admittedly hadn’t read any Hemingway since high school, aside from the stray short story.

About the same time, the broadcast of the Academy Awards drove me to the local library, when, seeing that the Coen Bros. had a film that I missed this year, I followed a whim or two. Searching for more information online, I discovered that their next film is True Grit. So I went looking for Charles Portis, which was kindly shelved where it oughtto have been. Perusing the fiction section, I uncovered an old Ron Rash, and eventually found myself in front of Hemingway, TSAR in my hand. A pretty good haul.

It takes about two pages to learn two things. Hemingway is a hell of a writer and Norman Mailer owes him a fair chunk of his royalties. Or did, anyway. I’m a big Mailer fan, read all the fiction, and some of the nonfiction, and I knew that he owed Hemingway a debt, but never realized how much. The resemblance is uncanny. EH’s prose is tighter, and NM’s lewder, but it’s there.

Hemingway’s funny too. I didn’t recall that from any previous readings.  The dialogue in the Parisian section is sharp, the repartee cutting. It’s reminescent of FSF in a lot of ways. The empty-headed, self-congratulatory celebration of Jake, Brett and the gang.

As the partiers move from Paris to Pamplona, their temperature rises along with the feverish pace of the fiesta. Fueled by booze and the blood of bulls and matadors, Jake and company devolve into jealousy and violence. They are torn alternately by passion and disillusionment.

I can see why Greg wrote that he’s read it many times over the years. I like the book more after thinking about it for a week than I did immediately upon finishing it, and I liked it then. I’m reminded of EH’s Iceberg Theory on writing, which I’ve heard paraphrased often enough, but here it is as he put it:

If a writer of a prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. The writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.

—Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

That fits. Hemingway leaves a lot unsaid in TSAR, which the reader interprets. That’s good, because it keeps the critics busy and out of the bars. It also leaves a lot for the rest of us to think about. How much of the treatment of Cohn is anti-semitism, how much is his inattendance at the war, and how much is because he’s a lovesick loser? How far does the postwar disillusionment extend? What’s the significance of Jake essentially pimping the matador? Lots more.

I had one problem, and it’s not Hemingway’s fault. It’s television’s fault. You see, the running of the bulls in Pamplona is an iconic scene in the novel – raw, bloody – and it ought to be meteoric and shocking. But it’s not, because every year every news channel shows 20 seconds of the running of the bulls, hoping to catch some dope being trampled or tossed on a horn, accompanied by a jackass newsreader making a joke. Of course, the only reason they cover it at all is because of Hemingway’s novel. A paradox. I can’t remember having that sensation before – that my prior knowledge of a scene made me disappointed in it.

It’s odd to say that someone as well known and read as EH might be underrated, but that might be the case, because he seems quite out of favor. I still prefer Faulkner, but I want to read something from the more mature Hemingway, so this week I’m planning to pick up a copy of either For Whom The Bell Tolls or A Farewell to Arms.


JE: D.R. “Duke” Haney’s Banned for Life is a great sprawling coming-of-age, with all the pitch and velocity of a punk rock adolescence. Banned is also, along with Hesh Kestin’s The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats, the most “lived in” novel I read last year, and one of the most under-read, in my estimation. Here’s Duke on the books he first fell in love with:

My family has been in Virginia since the seventeenth century, and many in my line were farmers, including my grandparents on both sides. I was especially close to my maternal grandparents, and spent a lot of time on their dairy farm, which my grandfather designated Grand View after the land and the house on it were passed to him by his mother, Della, whose mean streak was legendarily Medusa-like. The mean streak was not unjustified. Della’s husband, Hugh, was a circuit rider—that is, a traveling preacher who spread the Gospel on horseback—whose later, untreatable madness may have been triggered by the sudden death of their young daughter, Sara. Another shock was the murder, by a jealous ex, of my beloved Great-Aunt Nicie’s intended as he left the house one night.

The house, which sits at the crest of a hill that does indeed afford a grand view, already had a painful history. It was built in the 1830s by slaves owned by the prosaically-named Cowherd family (Della and Hugh acquired the property at the turn of the twentieth century), and during the Civil War, there was a skirmish between Yanks and Rebs at the foot of the hill, with part of the house razed by cannonfire. My Great-Great-Uncle Billy, uninvolved in that fight, was an officer in the Confederate Army, and buried in uniform, as per his request on his old-age deathbed. He strongly resembled Robert E. Lee in the only photo I saw of him: white-bearded and stately atop a white steed, his riding coat looking Confederate gray in the sepia-toned photo.

This is all to say that family lore uniquely prepared me for the novels of William Faulkner, with Grand View filling in for many of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County settings. There was, for instance, a gray-wood shack next to the chicken yard, where I pictured Joanna Burden of Light in August living as a pariah. There was a smokehouse, sweetly smelling of sultry ham, in the back yard, where I pictured Ringo and Bayard of The Unvanquished playing war. As for the late-night fight of Absalom, Absalom!, I transposed that to my grandfather’s former horse stable—“former” because he renounced horses after he was forced to put down an injured favorite. Of all of Faulkner’s books, Absalom, Absalom! has for me special resonance, since I read it at Grand View during a summer retreat from New York. Then, too, it solidified my love of paragraph-long sentences and pages-long paragraphs.

But my love for Faulkner began with our introduction, The Sound and The Fury, which he wrote under the influence of Joyce, and so fused stream-of-consciousness modernism with Hawthornian Gothic. It was, I think, the most ambitious novel I’d read to date (I was twenty), and I naturally saw it taking place at Grand View, with Caddy Compson, whose soiled underpants so jolted her three damaged brothers, climbing the mimosa tree that, as a child, I used to climb.

Faulkner spent his final years as Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia, and his grandsons owned a bar in my hometown. Once, when I was at the bar with my father, the owners both appeared, one of them a dead ringer for Faulkner in his thirties, and I had an impulse to walk up to him and say, “I am your grandfather’s heir.” I was working on a novel at the time, and later, after I junked it, I wondered at the weird urge to announce myself as Faulkner’s heir—to his grandson, no less. It was youthful hubris, of course, but still, I’d never been so sure of myself, and now it seemed I’d never start another novel, having been so battered by the one abandoned.

I was wrong. I did start, as well as finish, another novel, though the subject matter—punk rock—proves, as if proof were necessary, that I’m not Faulkner’s heir. But it was a grand illusion for the second it lasted.


Like most expats and/or struggling writers, you take pretty much whatever work comes your way.

I’ve done a lot of trickle down jobs that range from networking computers, translation, travel guide writing and DJing to the obligatory English teaching.

I sometimes call the last one “slingin’ ‘glish” (but never to my students).